Right Back Gyasi Zardes: Breaking Down His First Three Games At The Position

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ATLANTA, GA SEPTEMBER 20: LA's Gyasi Zardes (11) looks to make a move with the ball during a match between Atlanta United and LA Galaxy on September 20, 2017 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Editorial (October 12, 2017) – The LA Galaxy have experimented the last month or so now that they have been eliminated from the playoffs. One of those experiments (much to the chagrin of many) has been Forward Gyasi Zardes starting at Right Back. Zardes has now started three games at his new position. Let’s take a look at how he’s done.

Right Back Gyasi Zardes: Breaking Down His First Three Games At The Position

The Galaxy’s last three games have been at Sporting KC, at Houston Dynamo, and home to Real Salt Lake. The Galaxy played a 4-2-3-1 in all three matches. Twice Zardes was on the flank behind Romain Alessandrini. The other game, Bradford Jamieson IV was in front of him. Zardes did leave the RSL game 33 minutes in due to a groin injury.

Here’s the chalkboard for Zardes in those three games:

Let me preface the rest of this article by saying that it’s way to early to draw any real conclusions from these three games. Zardes is at a completely new position with a team that’s been in disarray much of the year. A bad team with nothing to play for against possibly three playoff teams isn’t a good litmus test here.

What The Chalkboard Shows Us:

Zardes had a lot of defensive actions at Kansas City. He got forward a few times, but there was a lot of sideways passing. Sporting is excellent on the wings, so he didn’t really have anywhere to go with the ball, especially with Giovani dos Santos playing as a false No. 9.

His ball movement was bit more balances against Houston. There was still some sideways passing, but it was up the field and towards the front of the box. He had a lot more defensive actions in the box. Houston dominated possession once the Galaxy were up 3-1 in that game. They had 26 shots and 14 corners. Zardes’s stats reflect that and he was very active on the defensive third.

Lastly, there’s not much you can take out of the RSL game. Zardes was subbed out in the first half and there was a red card to RSL in the 14th minute. I don’t put much stock in anything that happens in a game after a red card, regardless of which team gets the red card.

Game Film Review:

Zardes has some work to do when it comes to general defending fundamentals. Let’s break it down.

Not tracking back/hesitating against Sporting:

Look at these two plays. Both involve a transition attack by Kansas City with speed. In both cases, Zardes is initially out of position. He also is late in tracking back. This allowed the opponent to get two good chances, one which ended in a goal.

We’ve seen this in the past in his career. Zardes has historically been very reactionary as a target striker. He can react and use is his speed, but reading and anticipating the play is difficult for him. The difference is, in the past he had Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan directing him. When he was in the right place, he had a 16 goal season.

When he’s on a back line that’s already a mess without him, he has been more prone to giving up opportunities. He’s used to lining up as a target for a pass, not maintaining an offsides trap. He, his center backs, and his goalkeeper need to communicate more. He needs to work on looking over his shoulder to make sure a winger on his side isn’t wide open for a pass to get behind the defense as well.

Defending in the box:

On two separate instances Zardes had trouble with a man on him in the box. Against Houston, Zardes marked Alberth Elis on what would be Elis’s second goal (that tied the game). He did a good job staying with his man and preventing a run towards goal, but he didn’t challenge him at all in the air. Elis had an easy header to score. On the other play, Zardes gets the ball 18 yards from goal and is stripped of it by Daniel Salloi who almost scores.

In both of these cases, Zardes is in a slightly unfamiliar situation. He’s use to attacking the ball that close to goal and shooting from that distance. But as a striker, he’s not often back marking someone in the box on a corner. He’s also not used to defending with the ball in the box. His infamous first touch was at it again too.

Similar to his positioning in the midfield, Zardes has to work on his defensive marking and situational awareness in the box.

Using his speed:

This is the only real noteworthy play for Zardes from his game against RSL. This foul (and subsequent yellow card) occurred after the red card and shorty before Zardes was subbed out with a groin injury. As we saw from the Chalkboard, Zardes has yet to really use his speed to get forward and get involved in the attack.

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that if anyone on RSL is faster than him, it’s Joao Plata. That said, Plata was at midfield and the team had numbers back. He could have used his speed to just keep pace with Plata or intercept the ball and play it out of bounce for a throw in.

It was a silly foul, but it illustrates something I’ve felt about him for awhile: I’ve been a on team ‘Zardes is a forward, he’s not a wide player’ for several years. He doesn’t use his skill set (including his speed) as effectively on the wing on both sides of the ball. This play is an example of that.

What Sigi Thought:

Here’s what Sigi Schmid said after the Kansas City game: “We needed a right back. We had nobody and I think Gyasi [Zardes’s] strength is wide whether it’s a midfielder or in the back. I thought Gyasi, for his first game in the back, I thought had an excellent game. There are obviously things he can pick up on still, but overall I thought he handled a very difficult situation very well. If that’s where he ends up playing, it’ll come. He’s an intelligent guy. He’s got the engine to play there. Today, he was helping me out as much as anything else.”

This is what he said in Houston: “I thought he was solid. Obviously, we needed him to play right back, we didn’t have a lot of options there, and he came up and he played like a champ. I appreciate what he’s done and the sacrifice he’s made for the team.”

Overall, it seems like Sigi’s been happy with him giving it the college try and wants to see him grow and improve.

Last Word:

We’ll have to wait and see what happens with his groin injury. Beyond that, I don’t think we have enough data yet on the right back Gyasi Zardes experiment. He needs more time and more coaching at the position for it to work. I still think he’s more useful and has more value as a forward.

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