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Copa America Postmortem: Gyasi Zardes

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In this Postmortem series we'll be examining each player on the USA's 23-man roster and how they performed during the Copa America and what's next for them heading into the conclusion of World Cup qualifying.

Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most polarizing figures on this U.S. team somehow found a way to become even more polarizing. Gyasi Zardes's strengths and shortcomings have been increasingly well-documented over the past several months, and this tournament seemed to capture all of them. He's capable of trickery on the ball just as much as he's liable to boot it out of play with his first touch. He stretches defenses with his speed and kills attacks with indecision in and around the box. Regardless of how the fans feel about him, he's done enough to be one of the first names down on Klinsmann's team sheet, and I doubt his showing this summer has changed that. Let's take a look at his stats for the tournament.

Games: 6

Minutes: 539

Goals: 1

Assists: 1

Chances Created: 10

Positives

I give Gyasi Zardes a lot of crap.

But I would be lying if I said he didn't impress me this tournament at points. He looked better against quality opposition than I ever dreamed he would. He scored a goal in a knockout game against Ecuador, and his 10 chances created were the second most on the U.S. squad. His assist to Dempsey against Paraguay was a completely intentional cross (something that cannot be said of his assists against Guatemala, for example), and he even completed some very soft, difficult first touches in tight spaces. Against Argentina and Colombia, the first time, he was one of the Stars and Stripes' only threats. Put quite simply: he stretched his talent set further than I've ever seen him in this tournament.

Negatives

At the same time...

If this doesn't get better on a far more consistent basis, Zardes will never be the guy we can really start against top international competition if we hope to be able to exert any sort of control. His first touch is wasteful. It just is. Even passes that aren't really hard or fast seem to jump off his boot and several feet away from him. Add that to his habit of not making quick decisions in the final third (his assist against Paraguay notwithstanding), and it becomes very readily apparent why so many people are always so frustrated with Zardes.

Copa Grade - B-

I actually kind of wish there was a grade between C+ and B-, because I think that's most accurate here. Managed to simultaneously be a lonely bright spot and source of consternation.

What's Next

That touch is holding Zardes back, and it's pretty easy to see it. If he wants to improve it, he'll need to be more challenged at the club level to improve it. MLS has coddled him a bit in that regard, as he's still an effective attacker despite having cinder blocks for feet much of the time. On the other hand, LA Galaxy is still probably the best possible professional situation Zardes can find himself in. He's going to start, he's going to get lots of opportunity to attack, and he's going to play more and more games at a (relatively) high (for MLS) salary. Transfer rumors have sporadically popped up (most recently with Turkish giants Galatasary), but the move has to come with the opportunity to keep getting reps. The worst thing that can happen for Zardes's play is to move clubs, not meet the level, and then get buried on the bench. If Zardes moves, he needs to actually be playing. As it stands, the Galaxy will most likely be in the playoffs and are still in the Open Cup, so it will be business as usual for Gyasi in Los Angeles.