MIAMI SHORES, Florida – Although it still says 2015 on the calendar, it’s a new year – or should we say a “new beginning” – for the United States.
The first six months were dazzlingly highlighted by victories in international friendlies over
Mexico, the Netherlands and World Cup champion Germany.
Then, participation in a pair of competitions did not yield the desired results. A fourth-place finish in the CONCACAF Gold Cup was followed by a loss to the Mexicans in October’s CONCACAF Cup.
Those setbacks, however, will be put in the rearview mirror, when the Americans open their qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Friday against the visiting St. Vincent & the Grenadines in St. Louis, Missouri.
Forward Gyasi Zardes has earned 17 caps since making his international debut in a 3-2 loss at Chile on January 28. This will be the LA Galaxy standout’s first dive into the World Cup Qualifying pool and he’s looking forward to the experience.
“It’s the start of a World Cup cycle, so you’re kind of seeing the players that are going to build into that roster,” Zardes said Tuesday before a training session at Barry University. “It’s a blessing being here first and foremost out of all the American soccer players. It’s very motivating to be amongst this group of guys. It makes me want to work extremely hard to secure a spot here and to be a part of that team that goes on to Russia.”
If the U.S. successfully navigates the CONCACAF waters and earns a place in its seventh straight World Cup, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be the person to decide who’s issued a ticket on the plane. Zardes is ready to do what it takes to secure that seat.
“He (Klinsmann) makes me feel comfortable, very comfortable,” expressed the 24-year-old. “He tells me to play my game the same way I play with the Galaxy and tells me to be free out there, show my character. I love that, I love that.”
What is Klinsmann looking for in a potential World Cup-level player? Zardes has his finger on the pulse of those expectations.
“It’s about giving it your all because if you give it your all, he’s going to like what he sees or he’s not going to like what he sees,” Zardes continued. “I just really want to give it my all, always work extremely hard and just leave it all out on the field.”
Nobody would imagine the fast-rising star doing anything less.