OBETZ, Ohio — Josh Gardner was not taken aback when it was suggested that his uneven performance in the first half last Saturday was due to playing out of position on the left wing.
A halftime switch to the back line helped the leaky defense tighten and the Crew forged a 3-3 tie against Chivas USA after.
“Josh was coming back to his natural position, which is left back, instead of being in the middle,” coach Robert Warzycha said.
Is this the same Josh Gardner who led the University of Cincinnati as a senior with six goals and six assists as a midfielder and then went on to play 21 games for the Los Angeles Galaxy from 2004-06? The same Josh Gardner who spent last season with the minor league Carolina RailHawks, amassing six goals and four assists?
“In [youth] clubs, I always played center mid,” Gardner said. “I feel like all the best players played center mid and when I went to college they played me at left mid. Going to the Galaxy, left mid.”
In fact, it wasn’t until late last season with the RailHawks that he started the transition to left back. After a tryout with Sporting Kansas City earlier this year he was signed by the Crew with the defensive position in mind.
Gardner played left back during the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series against Real Salt Lake this spring and his only appearance in a regular-season match was in the same spot against Vancouver on April 30.
“Honestly, I think if maybe I had started at left back early on in my career it might have turned out a little bit differently; maybe national team, maybe this or that,” he said.
His problem against Chivas, however, was that he thought like a left back instead of a midfielder. He wasn’t attacking like a midfielder should, and he found himself occupying the same space as left back Rich Balchan before the switch was made and Balchan moved to holding midfielder.
Ironically, that’s when Gardner became more of an offensive threat, as he made overlapping runs to contribute several quality services.
“I was able to get forward more and Robbie [Rogers] was creating space for me to be able whip balls in,” he said. “All I wanted to do was put it in behind their defense and get a corner or an own-goal.”