KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Michael Harrington was walking off the training pitch when Peter Vermes called after him.
“Mikey, happy birthday,” the Sporting Kansas City manager said. “Good job today.”
Harrington, who turned 26 on Tuesday, couldn’t have asked for a better present – because Vermes’ praise for the defender was no empty gift.
After the disappointment of losing the starting right back job to Chance Myers midway through last season, Harrington has come into his sixth preseason camp with Kansas City fitter and with a renewed sense of purpose.
“When you’re not used to being on the bench on a week-to-week basis, it’s hard,” said Harrington, who started 16 games in 2011 but saw his minutes plummet to 1,495 from 2,560 the season before. “Obviously, I had my moments when it was tough and I was wondering if I was going to get back on the field.”
That doubt has passed, though.
“Coming into the preseason, I look back at last year as a learning experience,” Harrington explained. “I feel invigorated from the offseason and I’m in a good place mentally right now. I’m going to work hard to keep that mental state where it is. I know if my mental state is good, this is going to be a good year.”
That positive, aggressive outlook has showed in Sporting KC’s training scrimmages. Several times in the first two days, Vermes singled Harrington out for praise, both for his crosses and for his hard-nosed, active defensive work.
“He’s been good,” Vermes said. “He told me last year that he was going to come back and he was going to be fitter than he was last year. He’s got something to prove and I love that.”
Harrington’s teammates have noticed the change from 2011, too.
“Last year was obviously tough for him, losing his starting spot, but his mentality didn’t change,” center back Matt Besler said. “He’s always been a team guy, and this year you can definitely see he came in with the right attitude and he’s going to push for a spot. I don’t know where it’ll be, but he’s going to push for a starting spot.”
There’s the challenge for Harrington, though: Even if his training-camp improvement holds up into the regular season, where will he play?
Myers appears to be entrenched at right back, and while Harrington has played midfield before, Myers’ crossing skills make a right wing position redundant. And with Sporting KC having dealt former captain Davy Arnaud to Montreal to reclaim Expansion Draft casualty Seth Sinovic, Sinovic came into camp as the first choice at left back.
Harrington would be happy to be in the mix at any position, but he’s clear about what he really wants.
“My best position is an outside back, because I like to defend,” he said. “But I also enjoy getting up and getting service in, so I can play the midfield. Honestly, I see myself as a player who can play anywhere – but that’s really up to Peter.”