“Banger!”

That was the one-word reaction from Josh Williams to describe Gyasi Zardes’ world-class strike on Saturday night that helped the Columbus Crew beat CF Montreal, 2-1, inside Lower.com Field.

In the 62nd minute, Zardes found space in the attacking third, closed in on goal, and then unleashed arguably the Crew’s goal of the season.

“I haven’t watched it back, but (Darlington) Nagbe won (the ball), I turned and – if they are going to give me the time and space – I can shoot like that with my left or my right foot,” Zardes said of the goal. “So, I was glad that it went in, but I need to do that more.”

The strike was flawless and topped off perhaps the forward’s best performance of the season, as he scored both goals and helped the Crew to a third straight home win.

But the performance was also a reminder of Zardes’ potential.

In the Crew’s last three matches – the Club is unbeaten in all three – No. 11 has started and has been a menace for opposing backlines. Including his two goals against Montreal, he now has three in his last two games.

Saturday night marked the 100th regular-season appearance for Zardes since he joined the Crew ahead of the 2018 season. Since then, he’s been a clinical scorer who produced his 50th and 51st goals for the Crew against Montreal.

In his 18 appearances for the Crew this season, he is now tied with Lucas Zelarayán with a team-leading seven goals. Miguel Berry is just behind them with five goals in MLS play.

While the goals certainly speak to the attacking quality he offers Columbus moving forward, his selfless play – and clinical scoring capability – will be crucial for the club in the seven remaining league games this season. 

If Berry’s campaign has symbolized a relentlessness to capitalize on the opportunities that present themselves, Zardes’ work rate embodies the team’s approach to the remainder of the season of getting the small things right to produce big outcomes.

“I think this was one of his best games of the year, and it wasn’t just the goals. It was the little things he did defensively and also just his movement,” Porter said of his striker. “There have been some times where our number nines are too passive, sitting in seams in the back three. We worked on and talked a lot about the strikers’ movement behind the line and in front of the line to basically move and disorganize that back three a bit.”

If there’s one word that defines Zardes leading the attacking front line, it’s certainly not passive.

Currently, Zardes isn’t on pace to have as many goals this season as he’s achieved in previous seasons with Columbus, but his percentage of shots on target that lead to goals is similar to his past three campaigns for the club: 

Percentage of shots on target that resulted in goals

·     2021: 46.7%

·     2020: 63.1%

·     2019: 50%

·     2018: 47.5%

Basically, Zardes is scoring every other shot he attempts on target. For a team that’s struggled to feed its forwards throughout this year, his movement should create space to challenge opposing goalkeepers or draw defenders out of position and allow teammates open space in the final third.

Or, the other option, as we saw Saturday night, is Zardes finds open space and delivers a breathtaking goal.

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