Gyasi Zardes has no trouble recalling the last time he played in a soccer game.
“August 27,” he answers without hesitation.
What he can’t remember with any certainty is the last time he went more than six months without playing in one.
“Maybe high school?” the Galaxy forward guesses. “Like 10th grade?”
That layoff won’t end Saturday when the Galaxy, seeking its first win of the MLS season, goes on the road for the first time to visit Real Salt Lake (6:30 p.m., SpectrumSN, Spectrum Deportes). But if dealing with the foot and knee injuries that idled him has been difficult, Zardes says watching the team struggle without him has been just as hard.
“It’s tough,” said Zardes, who did not make the team flight to Utah after consulting with the team’s trainers Friday morning. “I obviously want to be part of this team in any way possible. I’m trying to learn to be patient.
”But at the same time … it’s kind of been building me [up], mentally.”
The Galaxy clearly misses Zardes, whose 32 goals over the last four seasons rank second on the team to Robbie Keane, who has retired. Just how much Zardes is missed is evidenced by the fact that the team’s only goal in its two losses this season came on a Gio dos Santos penalty kick.
And now Dos Santos, who has a hamstring problem, is out too, joining Zardes, Ashley Cole (calf), Robbie Rogers (ankle) and captain Jelle Van Damme (suspension) on the sidelines.
“It’s been the story of how we started the season,” said Galaxy Coach Curt Onalfo, whose team played the final 60 minutes of last week’s 1-0 loss to Portland with just 10 men. “What are you going to do? You can’t sit here and complain about it. You’ve got to find solutions, keep going forward.”
Getting Zardes back would certainly be one solution.
He missed the final 11 games last season after breaking a bone in his foot. After recovering from that he was called into camp with the U.S. national team in January, only to be felled with what was originally called “a minor contusion” on his right knee.
The injury didn’t heal, though, so he underwent arthroscopic surgery.
“This is my first knee injury. So I have no clue of what’s really going on,” said Zardes, 25, who has been training with the first team and will likely return to the lineup following the two-week international break, which begins Monday.
“I’m trying to play it safe because I feel fine. But I don’t want to jeopardize coming back too soon,” he continued. “At the same time we need points. It’s a long season but these points at the beginning of the year matter at the end of the year.”
With Dos Santos and Zardes both out, the team’s most experienced forward is Jose Villarreal, who has played 24 minutes off the bench this season. If Villarreal doesn’t start, the Galaxy will likely to go with a pair of 22-year-olds: Jack McBean, who has made 11 career MLS starts, and Ari Lassiter, who has 156 career MLS minutes.
Either way, Onalfo said he favors effort over outcome at this stage of the schedule.
“We’re focusing on improvement,” he said. “Early in the season you spend more time actually worrying about performance than necessarily results because the performance, how you build as a group, will turn into results if it’s done right.”