Leuzinger High School star Gyasi Zardes, 21, of Hawthorne, one of the nation’s most prolific college scorers over the last two years, has signed a professional contract with his hometown MLS club, the Galaxy announced today.
A proud Zardes, who scored 33 goals in 37 games for Cal State Bakersfield over the last three years, grew up 10 minutes from Home Depot Center and watched games there frequently, he told reporters on a teleconference call this morning.
“It’s exciting to be a part of the Galaxy family,” he said. “It’s the number one club in my eyes. I’ve always wanted to play in front of my family members.”
Zardes played for the Galaxy at U-18 and U-20 levels and spent last summer with the PDL Ventura County Fusion where he played against the likes of Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion.
“Gyasi has been one of the most exciting prospects in our Academy for a number of years and was one of the best players in college soccer over the past few years so we are excited to finally be able to sign him as a Homegrown Player,” Galaxy Vice President Chris Klein said. “He has grown and improved immeasurably as a result of his experiences with our Academy and at Bakersfield and we look forward to having him make his Galaxy debut in 2013.”
He is the second South Bay player after Inglewood’s Jose Villarreal to sign with the Galaxy. He is the fifth local product to sign as a homegrown player with the Galaxy; the first was Van Nuys’ Tristan Bowen, now with Chivas USA. And he is the third South Bay Force player, following in the wake of Villarreal and, most recently, Oscar Sorto, to turn pro with the club.
“South Bay Force has been building for many years here locally in youth club soccer to realize this moment,” said Technical Director Todd Saldana. “It is our golden era of player development having the three players signed by the LA Galaxy in recent times.”
Born to Brazilian parents, Zardes grew up watching, admiring and emulating the likes of Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robinho, “cut throat” strikers he said he hopes to follow in the footsteps of. And now his pro future is secured after three years in college, where he is just two classes away from a degree in criminal justice.
“I definitely feel more comfortable signing before the (MLS) draft because I know where I’m going to be based,” he said. “I’m 100 times more comfortable knowing I’m going to be based in Southern California and playing for the LA Galaxy.”
From the Galaxy: Zardes burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2011, scoring 18 times in 20 games while helping lead Bakersfield to a berth in the NCAA Division I Tournament for the first time in school history. His 18 goals that season were the fourth most in Division I college soccer that year and he was selected the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year and a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, which is awarded annually to the top player in college soccer.
In 2012, Zardes followed up his breakout season by scoring 15 goals and adding nine assists, each of which were team-highs, in 17 games, while helping the Roadrunners record a winning record for the fourth consecutive season. He had two or more goals in four of his 17 games, including seven goals in a two-game stretch in mid-October.