Left back switch does the trick

Longtime midfielder blossoming in new role with Columbus

Josh Gardner makes his first MLS start in five seasons

Photo Credit: 
Jamie Sabau - Getty Images

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.

Come again?

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.”