Gyasi Zardes celebrates his goal in front of an ecstatic Q2 Stadium crowd. (Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Plan A didn’t work out very well, so Gregg Berhalter decided to try Plan B.
Daryl Dike endured another difficult match at striker, so the U.S. men’s national team head coach pulled the Orlando City SC player for Gyasi Zardes in the 63rd minute.
The strategy worked. Zardes tallied the game-winning goal in the 86th minute to boost the USA to a 1-0 win over Qatar in the semifinals of the Concacaf Gold Cup at Q2 Stadium in Austin Texas Thursday night.
Given that the 29-year-old forward had much more international experience and that Dike has struggled you would have thought the veteran would have gotten the nod.
“It’s two games in a row that we’ve felt that Gyasi had a big impact,” Berhalter said. “I know every player wants to be on the field and wants to be able to perform. We can only pick 11. Decisions like that you test the player. Dike, you say, ‘Okay, show me what you got.’ For Gyasi, he’s the ultimate team player. He supports the whole team and all he wants is for the group to win. His work rate is always there. He always is dangerous, and he showed it again today.”
Zardes, who played for Berhalter when the latter directed the Columbus Crew, wouldn’t second guess his coach at all.
“One thing I never do is I never question the coach’s decision,” he said. “They’re the ones that do months of research on teams and in game models and methodologies of how we like to play. If they have me starting or on the bench, that’s their decision. I’m going do whatever I can to try to make a difference.
“They have a plan and so far, the plan has been working. If my name is called to start or come off the bench, I have to make sure I’m mentally and physically prepared. That’s what I’ve been doing because when you play in a tournament, you have to be ready when your name is called.”
As the game wore on, you could see the USA wearing down Qatar. That proved to be quite ironic because the Asian team is accustomed playing in hot weather.
“They play in hot temperatures, and today it was hot out there,” Zardes said. “I believe it was like a little less than 91. Our starters they did an amazing job at wearing Qatar out wearing, their defenders out by making runs beyond the backline
“When the subs were able to come in, we’re able to try to make a difference and be more energized. I looked over at a couple of their defenders. I saw him huffing and puffing after I ran the channel once. That’s going to motivate me to keep running and working hard, just so we can [win] this game and not go into overtime.”
Zardes made sure of that.
In fact, another sub, Nicholas Gioacchini, set up the winning goal after several quick passes by the USA. He fed Zardes from the left side and the Crew forward slotted home his 14th international from six yards.
Midfielder Paul Arriola, who has known Zardes for a long time, before he was a professional, didn’t have to be reminded about what the forward has meant to the team.
“He’s a team player and he works his tail off, which I think is amazing,” he said. “He’s a great footballer. I think he doesn’t get enough credit. But I’m glad that that he continues to show his worth., being a part of the national team obviously with the crew. He’s been unbelievable over the over the years.”