For the second year in a row, Troy Gardner, a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, is helping out the First Team’s equipment staff during the California phase of preseason.
A passionate Sounders fan, he holds aspirations of becoming an MLS equipment manager when he retires from active duty in September. These weeks spent learning the tricks of the trade while assisting his favorite soccer team have been invaluable as he charts the course for the next phase of his professional career.
“For active duty personnel to get the time away, it’s amazing,” said Gardner. “It helps me with in my career after the military to pursue what I want to do in an equipment manager position somewhere. [Director of Equipment Operations] Nolan [Myer] is great. He’s taught me a lot.”
Gardner grew up playing soccer in Maryville, MO., a city almost 100 miles north of Kansas City with a population just shy of 12,000 people. Surrounded by fans of basketball, baseball and football, he played his trade in local AYSO recreational soccer leagues.
Gardner assisting the equipment staff during one of the team's training sessions in Long Beach, Calif. | Josh Lavallee
Gardner had been following the Sounders organization since 2013, when longtime United States Men’s National Team star Clint Dempsey signed with the Rave Green. So, when S2 announced its open tryouts in 2015, he decided to give it a shot. Although he didn’t make the USL Championship squad, the experience strengthened his connection to the club.
“I’ve been to numerous playoff games,” added Gardner. “I’ve gone twice to Military Appreciation games and I was on the field for one of them. I was in the front holding the flags. During one of the games, I gave Brian [Schmetzer] a ‘challenge coin’ to win the Cup that year, and they did.”
Issuing a challenge coin, which bear special insignias customized for the individual, is a tradition that spans all branches of the military. It’s a challenge to the recipient to accomplish a certain task. If one is unable to complete the objective, they owe the challenger a round of drinks.
Suffice it to say, Schmetzer didn’t have to pick up any tabs for Gardner.
Gardner (left) poses with Schmetzer (right) and his challenge coin in Toronto after the 2016 MLS Cup.
He did, however, give Gardner an unforgettable experience at his second Military Appreciation game, gifting memorabilia that left him grateful to be a member of the Sounders community.
“Last year, after the Atlanta game, all the staff and the players were really friendly,” recalled Gardner. “I totally didn’t see it coming, but they gave me a team-signed jersey. Stefan Frei gave me his gloves. I totally wasn’t expecting it, but all of that went above and beyond.”
When Gardner retires from active duty in September, he holds aspirations of becoming an equipment manager somewhere in MLS. Between an internship he had with Sporting Kansas City and his time assisting the Sounders the last two preseasons, he’s garnered invaluable experience as he charts his next career path.
“Everybody’s got their own way of how they want to do things,” said Gardner. “I’ve taken stuff I’ve learned from Nolan, stuff I’ve learned from KC, and from my military experience. You’ve just got to mix and match and build your own style.”
Gardner has learned a lot this preseason, working alongside some of the best equipment staff in the business. As his time in active duty nears its end, he’s looking forward to taking those lessons and getting started on his next great adventure.