Gyasi Zardes’ goal in the USMNT’s Gold Cup semifinal against Panama was a result of a hard-working effort from Gregg Berhalter, who has been rewarded for his faith.
Gyasi Zardes is a USMNT player who was signed by the Columbus Crew in 2014. He has been on the team since then, but he wasn’t always an important player for the club. Gregg Berhalter’s faith in him led to his breakout season last year, and now he’s rewarded with a Gold Cup semifinal victory over Costa Rica.
Gyasi Zardes’ worldwide career has proven to be more difficult to end than that of one of those horror film heroes. The Columbus Crew striker continues to score goals for the United States no matter how many times The Next Big Striker comes around, eager to take his place.
The most recent example was Thursday’s Gold Cup semifinal versus Qatar. Zardes was in the right position at the perfect moment in the 86th minute, deflecting Nicholas Gioacchini’s low, centering pass — following earlier fine work by another replacement, Eryk Williamson — to give the Americans a 1-0 victory and a berth in Sunday’s final.
Many spectators will be surprised to learn that Zardes portrayed the hero. There have long been suggestions that he be replaced by younger, more technically adept players. Gregg Berhalter, on the other hand, isn’t surprised by the Crew forward’s continuing influence. Zardes has always been a favorite of his, with him saving the forward’s career when he fell out of favor — and even spent time at right back — during his last season with the LA Galaxy in 2017.
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Even in this tournament, Zardes has been a distant second, with Daryl Dike getting the majority of the playing time. Berhalter, on the other hand, has never forgotten what Zardes is capable of. In 2019, the final complete season before the pandemic, the striker led the club with six goals. Zardes was given the opportunity to make an impact off the bench since Dike was struggling. He came through once again.
After the game, Berhalter remarked of Zardes, “He’s the ideal team player.” “And he believes in the squad as a whole, and all he wants is for the collective to succeed. I believe he walked in and immediately made an impression, and that is the kind of person he is. His output is consistently high. He’s constantly on the lookout for opportunities. He demonstrated it once again today.”
If this had been a boxing fight, the United States would have been far down on points. Qatar, as is customary, was happy to relinquish control and attempt to catch the US off guard. However, the Qataris not only threatened throughout the changeover, but they also successfully sliced apart the US defense from a patient buildup at moments.
“I believe our offensive midfielders weren’t in the pockets enough in the first half, and we didn’t locate them in dangerous situations enough to subsequently activate the wingers and the striker behind the backline,” Berhalter said.
The United States’ manager also lamented his team’s failure to win duels, stating that this is something that would need to change in the final.
Qatar might have put the game out of reach for the Americans before halftime if it hadn’t been for American goalkeeper Matt Turner. Turner was credited with only three saves, according to ESPN Stats & Information, but two of them were particularly impressive, with Turner pushing a deflection from teammate James Sands around the post in the 13th minute and then getting his fingertips to Abdulaziz Hatem’s attempt three minutes later.
Turner, along with a few of his colleagues, had taken up residence inside Qatar’s collective mind at that time, and it proved crucial in the 61st minute. Sands was adjudged to have brought down Akram Afif after a long VAR review. Kellyn Acosta then tried to agitate Qatar penalty taker Hassan Al-Haydos with some sleight of hand. Al-Haydos next attempted to chip the ball into the goal, but it went over the bar instead, keeping the Americans alive.
The difference-maker in the United States’ 1-0 win against Qatar on Thursday was Gyasi Zardes. ISI Photos/Getty Images/John Dorton
“Listen, I don’t believe the things that [were] spoken are appropriate for a news conference, but it’s just regular back and forth,” Turner said of the penalty attempt build-up. “Obviously, it was a huge occasion in an international competition.” Tensions are high, and emotions are strong as well. And as for myself, I just attempted to let the man know that I was aware of his situation and that I had been following his punishment.
“I believe I even imitated his run up as I was returning to my objective, just to play with him a little bit. Wait as long as you can in the center, since I know he chipped down the middle previously in the tournament, and watch what happens. So, even though I went the wrong way, I’d like to believe that a mix of factors contributed to that moment — my team postponing the shot, me standing firm. And that was a pivotal moment for us, as we were able to carry that energy into the last 30 minutes of the game and score the game-winning goal.”
If the exchange signaled a shift in the game’s momentum, a succession of American substitutions shifted the game even more in their favor. In the 63rd minute, Zardes, Cristian Roldan, and Reggie Cannon came in. In the 81st minute, Williamson and Gioacchini, who had hardly played in the competition, came on. Qatar had a history of tiring out in the second part of games, so the entrances were crucial.
“There was a lot more mobility, a lot more of a danger to the backline when the replacements came in,” Berhalter said.
Zardes recognized Qatar’s weariness straight away as he walked onto the pitch, something they confessed to in their post-game interviews.
“I glanced over to a few of their defenders, and after seeing him panting and puffing after I had run the channel once, I thought to myself, ‘You know what? That’ll inspire me to keep running and trying hard so we can [win] this game without going into overtime,’ says the player “he said
Zardes struck the decisive punch, scoring a first-time goal after some good interplay from Gioacchini and Williamson. Zardes has always said that he is unconcerned by the insults made against him. And as for not starting, Zardes says he trusts Berhalter and the rest of the coaching staff’s choices, and if it means sitting on the bench, so be it.
“The coaching staff will make the final choice. They have a strategy, and it has worked so far “Zardes said. “But, if my name is called to start or come off the bench, I have to make sure I’m emotionally and physically prepared, which is exactly what I’ve been doing because, in a tournament, you have to be ready when your name is called. Because there are so many variables, I’m simply going to make sure I’m ready if my name is called.”
Zardes and the rest of his colleagues must now play one more game. On the one hand, the United States is projected to reach the Gold Cup final regardless of who takes the field. However, considering the group’s relative inexperience, this squad has done well to come thus far and has found ways to win against the odds. While it is unclear who from this group will be summoned into the whole squad when World Cup qualifying begins, mental toughness is a crucial quality to possess.
On Sunday, they’ll have another opportunity to show off their skill.
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