COLUMBUS, Ohio — A year ago this week, Josh Gardner was enjoying a good stretch with the minor-league Carolina RailHawks by scoring in successive games against USSF D-2 opponents AC St. Louis and Puerto Rico.
He parlayed that good form into his first stint in Major League Soccer since 2006, when he signed with the Crew in February. And on Wednesday, he became a part of history in Vancouver when he assisted the Jeff Cunningham score that tied Jaime Moreno’s league career goal record of 133 and set the Columbus all-time mark (63).
Gardner, a former draft pick of the LA Galaxy, was on the upper left flank of the penalty area when a clearance came to him.
“I just wanted to put it back in the mixture,” he said. “I could have chosen a few other guys to play it to since they were right there, but Jeffrey was able to put it away. It was nice.”
Gardner’s presence is symbolic of the new-look Crew (7-5-6), as they’ve surprised some by their second-place tie with Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference, a point behind New York with a game in hand.
“I’d like to see people say we’re rebuilding when we’re [second] in the East and doing pretty well,” said Eric Gehrig, one of four rookies to start this season.
A fifth, Aaron Horton, is among 11 newcomers to play this season (Cunningham is included in that list, though he played for Columbus from 1998 to 2004). In Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Vancouver, six starters were not with the Crew last season. A seventh, forward Andrés Mendoza, joined the team in September.
In all, 10 of the 14 players used were not in a Columbus uniform 12 months ago, yet the Crew have won three of four as the youngsters develop.
“Columbus picked a great group of rookies,” first-year forward Justin Meram said. “All of us are contributing, scoring and assists. I think the veterans appreciate it.”
Vancouver goalkeeper Joe Cannon should not be surprised Cunningham’s winner came in the 90th minute, because he has been victimized in the dying minutes by the Crew before.
On June 30, 1999, his San Jose Clash (now Earthquakes) were up 3-2 when Crew ‘keeper Mark Dougherty made a save on Ronald Cerritos to prevent his hat trick, then punted the ball up field. Forward Stern John got it amidst four defenders and scored with three seconds left to send the game to a shootout where current Crew coach Robert Warzycha scored the winner.
“I’ve never been arrested but I should be in handcuffs because I think we stole one from San Jose,” late Columbus coach Tom Fitzgerald said afterward.
Many of the principles were involved again on March 25, 2000, when Warzycha was called for a handball in second-half stoppage time and Cerritos converted the penalty to tie the score.
Warzycha then beat Cannon with a 30-yard free kick in stoppage time of OT (the league played two five-minute overtime periods then). It was the first regular-season “golden goal” in league history.