COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s only partially accurate to say Josh Gardner came out of left field to make the Crew after spending the past four seasons in the lower divisions. Actually, it was left midfield for the 28-year-old former LA Galaxy man.
Gardner earned a roster spot with Columvus after a tryout earlier this year with Sporting Kansas City and promptly started the two CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matches vs. Real Salt Lake in place of injured left back Shaun Francis.
The results were mixed as he helped the Crew to a scoreless draw in the first leg but had his newness at the position challenged more in the 4-1 loss in the rematch.
“He’s very versatile,” Crew coach Robert Warzycha. “He has a lot of experience that can help us, but he is still learning to play back there.”
Gardner played a little on the back line last year for the second-division Carolina RailHawks.
“Especially in a 4-3-3, the outside wingers would have to tuck back a lot,” he said. “I kind of played like a left back at times. I’m used to it. In our system here, it allows the outside back to get forward, which I love. [Warzycha] is trying to coach me on being the support and not making the overlapping run like I’m used to.”
Gardner has resisted the urge to get forward at times but expects that to change when he is more comfortable with his new role.
“I’m conscious of being more defensive right now," he said, "but once I get that understanding of when I can go or shouldn’t go, it’s going to be more exciting for me to get into the attack."
The truth is, Gardner would play anywhere on the field to be back in MLS. A Project 40 player out of the University of Cincinnati in 2004, Gardner played sparingly in three seasons with the Galaxy.
He appeared in two matches for 25 minutes his first year and got just 13 minutes the next, although he was part of the Galaxy team that won the MLS Cup and the US Open Cup double in 2005.
Gardner didn’t get a good look again until Frank Yallop replaced Steve Sampson as coach in 2006 and he played 18 games with 12 starts and scored his lone goal on July 8 against RSL. His MLS days ended when he was cut prior to the 2007 season and he spent two seasons with the Seattle Sounders before the cub joined MLS. He then went to Carolina for two seasons.
“It feels great to be back in the league,” Gardner said. “I’ve worked hard the last four years playing with Seattle and Carolina to get this opportunity and now I’m trying to make the most of it.”