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2022 Season Review: Gyasi Zardes

Zardes scored nine goals and assisted twice during his one season in Burgundy.

Zardes after a home match at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
John Babiak

This is part of a series of individual player reviews by Joseph Samelson. You can follow him on Twitter @jspsam and read his work elsewhere at josephsamelson.com.

Role: Striker

Squad Status: Departed

Season in a Sentence: Zardes scored nine goals and assisted twice during his one season in Burgundy, but the Rapids allowed the forward to leave as a Free Agent at the end of the year.

Grade: B-

The Colorado Rapids’ very public off-season search for attacking reinforcements after the 2021 season culminated in the trade for U.S. International Gyasi Zardes, who had just completed four prolific seasons with the Columbus Crew.

The move came much later than expected, and only after Colorado had exhausted its search abroad for multiple forwards. The Designated Player joined more than two months after the club kicked off their competitive fixtures in Guatemala, and came with a unique set of conditions: a guaranteed stash of $300,000 in General Allocation Money for the Crew, along with a supplemental payment of up to $1.1 million GAM if Zardes hit certain benchmarks and re-signed with the club.

Zardes saw the field as a late substitute against Charlotte FC within 48 hours of the trade, but didn’t take any shots in the 0-0 draw. However, the California native quickly locked-in a starting role, and his arrival forced Diego Rubio to take on a playmaking position in midfield—a move that undoubtedly paid off in the long run for the Rapids’ chance creation.

While Zardes’ presence allowed Rubio more space to operate and find dangerous areas, the former Galaxy homegrown didn’t hit the ground running by scoring buckets of goals in his position like the Chilean did as an attacking midfielder. As a result, it took Zardes quite some time to fully gel with Colorado’s first team.

His worst stretch of the season came early during his Rapids stint across a mid-season run of matches against Nashville, New York City, Portland, and Austin. Zardes’ chances created a grand total of 0.6 xG during those fixtures, and he struggled to make any sort of impact from the run of play. Three of those matches notably followed a multi-week international break, which should have theoretically served as a hybrid training camp for the forward to get better acclimated with his new teammates.

Zardes finally got his first open play goal against Orlando in mid-July, which came 822 minutes after he had first donned and 604 minutes following his penalty goal against Los Angeles FC in mid-May. The 31-year-old began to find his footing after that strike, and quickly doubled-up his open play total before the end of the week against the Galaxy. He scored a game-winning hat trick three matches later against Minnesota United—far and away his best match of the year—and continued to pop up on the scoresheet every few games for the rest of the season. The goals ultimately proved to be too little too late for Colorado’s playoff hopes, and the Rapids notably gave homegrown striker Darren Yapi the start over Zardes in the club’s final game of the season after being eliminated from the playoffs.

Zardes’ rate of 0.48 combined goals and assists per 90 with the Rapids in 2022 ultimately wasn’t too far off his 0.52 per 90 with the Crew in 2021, but he did show noticeable regression in his finishing. While he performed far above his expected goals rate in 2020 (+1.1 G-xG) and 2021 (+3.3), the data indicates he probably should have gotten at least one more during his stints with both Columbus (-1.0) and Colorado (-1.2) this past year.

Another area where Zardes fell back was his aerial prowess. He won 54% of his attempted aerials during his last full season with the Crew at a rate of 3.93 per 90, which landed him in the top 90% of the league’s strikers in both categories. His dominance in the air diminished in 2022, as he won fewer headers overall (2.26 per 90, 72nd percentile) and a lower percentage of his total attempts (42.9%, 64th percentile). That wasn’t good enough for a team that was trying to create so many chances from Lucas Esteves or Michael Barrios crosses.

Looking Forward

Even though he probably should have scored more, Zardes’ nine goals were well worth the $300,000 in MLS funny money that the Rapids had to pony up to the Crew. That said, Colorado General Manager Pádraig Smith absolutely made the right call in opting against re-signing the soon-to-be-32-year-old forward for three years at the same $1.5 million salary that he earned in 2022. Zardes instead took his talents to Austin, and will be on their books through the 2025 season—Colorado would have needed to pay an additional $750,000 GAM to the Crew for the right to offer the forward a similar deal.

It’s worth stressing that Zardes’ ability to occupy defenders and stretch the back line allowed Rubio to have the best offensive performance by a Rapid in club history. Rubio’s previous best year came when he played a similar role behind Kei Kamara in 2019, and Colorado would benefit in spades if they can find a player who can fulfill a similar role. Maybe that involves the team’s newly-acquired forwards in Kévin Cabral or Calvin Harris. The 18-year-old Yapi might also have something to prove at the position.

Whatever the answer, Colorado will still need to find a way to replicate Zardes’ production next season if they want to avoid backsliding again.

Stats via FBref.