With Tottenham Hotspur moving to sign one of the brightest prospects in MLS this past summer in Seattle Sounders right-back DeAndre Yedlin, the likes of Franco Baldini and Mauricio Pochettino would be wise to listen to a club icon’s praise of another up-and-coming star from across the pond.
LA Galaxy captain and ex-Spurs ace Robbie Keane has partnered the emerging Gyasi Zardes up top for most of the 2014 season and, having acted as a mentor for his fellow striker over that period, has been full of praise for his abilities.
Aged 23, Zardes finished the regular-season as the second-highest American scorer in MLS with 16 goals in 32 games, with his impressive form seeing him tipped for a first senior national team call-up in the New Year.
Signed to a Homegrown contract out of college in December 2012, the CSU Bakersfield product featured on the flanks for most of his debut campaign, when he netted just four times in 27 games, but is now thriving in a more comfortable role at the head of the attack.
With the Galaxy hosting the New England Revolution at the StubHub Center this Sunday in MLS Cup, Zardes’s production has been a crucial factor towards reaching the final hurdle, and Keane believes his skilled teammate has proved that he’s grown up in recent months.
"He's learning, you know. If you look at it this year compared to last year, he's a completely different player,” he told ESPN FC.
“Instead of last year, trying to do tricks and stuff like that, when he was playing on the wing and doing all these stepovers. I said to him, 'I never see [Lionel] Messi doing stepovers -- or [Cristiano] Ronaldo even.'
"Ronaldo does it now and again, but when Ronaldo's running one-on-one with someone, he doesn't really do many stepovers, but he's running at pace, shoulder-to-shoulder, getting at you.
“I know he does it now and again, when he's winning the game and he gets in the corner and he does that little thing that he does, but that's only just for show but, for running at people one by one, I told [Zardes] this year it's different because he's playing on the shoulder of the defenders and I'm always saying to him, 'Listen to me, as soon as I get the ball always look in behind and I'll find you. Nine times out of 10 I'll look for you, anyway -- I might not find you but I'll keep trying to get you in.'
"And I think in that respect he's learning and he's listening. He's a good lad and he's only going to get better and better and this year was a prime example of that. From last year Gyasi's quick, he's strong, and now he's adding goals to his game, which is obviously very very important for a striker."
One thing for sure is that if Zardes continues to progress towards fulfilling his enormous potential moving forward then, just like fellow Homegrown product Yedlin, a high-profile switch to Europe won’t be far off.
In the meantime, would it be worth a team like Spurs keeping close tabs on him? With an impressive combination of size, speed, strength and skill, the 6ft 2in up-and-comer no doubt has the look of a Premier League front man, but it’s clear that he still needs to work on the mental side of his game before he is prepared for a move abroad.
He is already getting a small taste of what life is like in England, however, thanks to Keane’s highly dedicated tutelage, which he claims to have been told by the Irishman himself is what helped mould the raw Gareth Bale into the now-Real Madrid superstar.
“He has been very influential for me,” Zardes told Extratime Radio of Keane earlier this season.
“He always knows where the other forward is – it’s a certain run he makes – I’ve used it now in the previous games and it’s working. He even sat me down and told me that at Tottenham Gareth Bale was just a guy with speed until he learnt those runs, and look at him now.
“He’s just passing on that advice again. He says I’m a player with speed but I can improve so I’m just trying listen to him and take what I can. I’m just trying to be a student of his game.”
Zardes almost certainly isn’t going to become a Bale-esque star in the future, but he is a physically-gifted speedster, just like the Welshman and compatriot Yedlin, who still has his best football ahead of him.
A starring role in MLS Cup this weekend, before a potential winter call-up to Jurgen Klinsmann’s US squad, would do wonders for his reputation and serve to ensure that is name starts to be known across Europe, where a team like Spurs would be wise to start tracking his development.
If a potential transfer to White Hart Lane ever did happen in the future, too, then one can guarantee that the club’s North American fan base would increase tenfold with both him and Yedlin starring in the Premier League each week.