Peter Vermes made a mistake. He doesn’t shy away from admitting that.
Several years ago, Vermes, who is Sporting Kansas City’s coach and technical director, had Josh Gardner in training as a trialist, but the club let him walk away.
“We let him go too early,” Vermes admitted. “We made a mistake on him. He is a guy that fits the way we play. He is a guy that has the right mentality and wants to be in this type of environment. I think he will flourish here.”
Given a second chance in early December to acquire Gardner, Vermes happily shipped a second-round pick in last month’s MLS SuperDraft to the Montreal Impact.
Now, Vermes hopes to utilize Gardner’s experience and versatility during Sporting KC’s rapidly approaching — and destined to be hectic — 2013 season.
“With his quality and the fact he can play different positions, I think he can be a very versatile and valuable player for us over the course of this year,” Vermes said.
Gardner, 30, is a left-footed midfielder by trade, but he also provides depth behind incumbent starters Bobby Convey at left wing and Seth Sinovic at left back.
“I feel comfortable anywhere on the left side really,” Gardner said. “I’ve played as a winger and outside mid for most of my career, but a couple of years ago I went to left back. I’ve enjoyed both positions and like to get forward from outside back.”
That is critical in Vermes’ high-pressure, fast-paced 4-3-3 system, but it’s his quality in those positions that caught Vermes’ eye more than strictly his versatility.
“What gets lost in the shuffle about him is that he’s a first-round draft pick,” Vermes said.
“He’s a Generation adidas kid. Unfortunately, sometimes the road is tough. You go through a couple of places and sometimes it doesn’t work, whatever it is timing or however it works.”
Originally drafted No. 13 overall from Cincinnati in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft by the Los Angeles Galaxy, Gardner also played for the Columbus Crew in addition to Montreal, where he appeared in six games last season, during a five-year MLS career.
He was out of the league during 2007-10, but Gardner wasn’t out of professional soccer, appearing in 52 games for the Seattle Sounders in 2007-08, when the club was still a USL Pro franchise, and making 47 appearances with the Carolina RailHawks in 2009-10.
For his part, Gardner isn’t bothered by the fact that his career with Sporting KC was delayed.
“It’s good to hear that (they feel like they made a mistake), but there’s no hard feelings there obviously,” he said.
“It’s good to know they value me as a player. It gives me a lot of confidence and obviously makes me want to perform for the club, the coaches and the guys around me.”
With the Galaxy, Gardner played on a team that won both the MLS Cup and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles in 2005. He also played significant minutes in CONCACAF Champions League.
In other words, the rigors of Sporting KC’s upcoming season, which include a 34-game MLS slate in addition to defending the Open Cup title and wading into the Champions League waters, won’t be unfamiliar to Gardner.
In fact, he’s thrilled that there will be so many minutes available with the first team in 2013.
“We have three competitions,” Gardner said. “I don’t think guys can play 60 games in a year. But what I want to do first and foremost is work hard and push the guys that are around me as I play my best (soccer).
“Hopefully, I’ll see a few minutes here and we’ll be winning games and winning trophies. That’s most important. My role is to come in and work hard,” Gardner said. “I want to make it difficult for Peter to pick the lineup every day.”