Gyasi Zardes stood on a back field at the StubHub Center on Friday, hands on his hips and dripping with sweat.
“I’m dead,” the Galaxy midfielder panted after his first training session with the club in nearly six weeks. But though Zardes has been missing from the Galaxy since mid-May, he hasn’t missed much soccer, starting eight games for the U.S. national team — including six in the Copa America Centenario, where he played 539 of a possible 540 minutes.
Now he returns to a club team that has struggled in his absence, going winless in five Major League Soccer games — seven overall — and failing to score in three of those. So although teammate Nigel de Jong says the team needs the exhausted Zardes back in the lineup, he concedes it may take time for him to recover from his Centenario duties. And the biggest challenge, De Jong said, won’t be a physical one
“It’s the mental stress, like how far can you push yourself.”
The Galaxy will learn the answer to that question Monday when both Zardes and captain Robbie Keane return from international duty to play against the Vancouver Whitecaps at StubHub Center (7:30 p.m., TWC, TWC Deportes). The game will be followed by a Fourth of July fireworks show.
The Galaxy need help to break out of a slump that has reached historic depths: The team’s seven-game winless streak, which includes five draws, and its one goal in the last four games marks the driest spell in more than four seasons. As a result, both Zardes and Keane, who have combined for eight goals and five assists, are expected to play against Vancouver. But they’ll be coming into the game from different directions.
Zardes is returning tired after a June workload with the national team that was greater than anything he has endured with the Galaxy in more than a year. Keane, meanwhile, was nursing a calf injury while with Ireland in the European Championships, an injury that limited him to 23 minutes off the bench in the tournament.
And Coach Bruce Arena said managing players coming from those extremes will be more difficult than trying to get Zardes and Keane reacquainted with the Galaxy’s playing style.
“It has nothing to do with the system,” Arena said. “It has to do with just mental and physical fatigue. So there’s some challenges.
“The part that’s always easy for the guys is on the field.”
Another challenge for Arena will be filling three holes on the backline. Right back Robbie Rogers is out until August after undergoing ankle surgery last month. Center back Jelle van Damme and left back Ashley Cole are both suspended for Monday’s match, Van Damme for an accumulation of yellow cards and Cole for the red card he picked up in the Galaxy’s last game.
However, center back Daniel Steres, who leads the team in minutes played, is expected to return after an injury kept him out of the team’s draw with San Jose nine days ago.
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