Gyasi Zardes returns to the scene of the crime again on Sunday, this time a year to the day after the robbery took place.
Actually, it was more of an accident than a robbery. But when Zardes broke a bone in his foot at the StubHub Center last Aug. 27, something very valuable was stolen from the Galaxy and their star forward.
And that constitutes a crime.
Few details in the theft report are in dispute. Two months after a successful run with the national team in the Copa America Centenario and three days after scoring his sixth goal of the MLS season, Zardes came on for an injured Steven Gerrard in the first half of a scoreless draw with Vancouver. Then early in the second half, Whitecaps defender Kendall Watson clipped Zardes’ right foot with a sliding tackle, breaking the fifth metatarsal.
Zardes didn’t play again in 2016, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery for an unrelated injury in February, and hasn’t scored for the club or country in 368 days. As for why, there are as many theories as there have been scoreless games — and there have been 23 of those entering Sunday’s StubHub Center matinee with the San Jose Earthquakes (FS1, Fox Deportes, 4 p.m. PDT).
“There’s a lot of variables. He hasn’t been able to get himself into a rhythm for a variety of reasons — injury and so forth,” says Dave Sarachan, a former Galaxy assistant who now coaches with the national team.
“It’s been different things,” agrees Galaxy manager Sigi Schmid. “It’s going to take that one moment and hopefully with that one moment he’ll be able to come through.”
Zardes, who has been stand-up with the media during his struggles, confesses the goal drought has been difficult but says he’s healthy now and is looking ahead, not behind.
“That’s the game of soccer,” he said after training Friday. “There’s numerous players that played at the highest level and that went through the same things I went through after injury. But it’s how you progress. I’m not looking back.
“I care more about making playoffs than about me.”
A few well-placed Zardes goals over the last five months might have left the postseason within reach; instead, the playoff race will all but end with a loss Sunday. And the Galaxy will go into the game weakened by the absences of midfielder Jermaine Jones (foot) and left back Ashley Cole (red card). Forward Gio dos Santos (hamstring) and midfielder Jonathan dos Santos (conjunctivitis) may see only limited playing time.
Even at full strength the team hasn’t won since mid June and is winless at home since April 7. A loss or tie with Sunday against San Jose — which has already beaten the Galaxy twice this season — would give the team a franchise-record 10 straight winless games at StubHub.
It’s obvious why that is: The Galaxy have been shut out in three of their last four games, haven’t scored in 264 minutes and didn’t even get a shot on goal in their last match, a 2-0 loss to Columbus last Wednesday.
That’s not all on Zardes, though. Romain Alessandrini, the team leader in goals and assists, hasn’t scored in two months and has played just three full games in that time. Gio dos Santos, the team leader in goals and assists last season, hasn’t scored in three months and has just one assist on the season.
That makes Daniel Steres the team’s scoring leader over the last nine games — and Steres is a defender who didn’t even play in three of those matches. Yet Zardes, the only remaining starter from the Galaxy’s last MLS Cup winner in 2014 and the only player to have started as least one game in each of the last five years, is the one who gets both the attention and the blame.
One reason for his struggles could be where he’s playing. With the national team Zardes is often used on a wing, where he has done well. But with the Galaxy both former coach Curt Onalfo and Schmid have used him primarily as a lone striker, a position that requires creativity and the ability to finish.
Zardes has shown neither this season.
“There are players who create goals on their own and players who score goals,” former teammate Landon Donovan said. “Gyasi is the latter.”
Donovan said he also thinks Zardes has also suffered from the loss of former captain Robbie Keane, who was let go over the winter.
“When you’re not playing next to Robbie Keane, you’re probably not going to score as much,” Donovan said.
And as Zardes has sputtered so has the team, which will enter Sunday’s game 13 points out of a playoff berth with 10 matches left on the schedule.
Still, the season is shaping up to be a historic one since anything short of a win Sunday would guarantee the Galaxy (6-13-5) will break the franchise record for fewest home wins in a season while a loss would leave them two shy of the season high in that category.
They’re also on pace to match the franchise records for fewest points (33), fewest wins (8) and most goals allowed (62). Meanwhile, Zardes — now three seasons removed from his only double-digit goal-scoring season — could become the first Galaxy forward to start more than 10 games without scoring a goal.
And the more he’s reminded about that, the deeper his slump will become.
“The confidence factor, in any goal scorer, is massive,” Sarachan said. “And you’re talking about the hardest thing to do in soccer, to score.
“You’ve just got to take a step back and just allow it to come. If you press, it can sometimes be a little more difficult.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11