Photo: Earl Gardner
It had been almost exactly two months since Raymon Gaddis had played a full ninety minutes for the Philadelphia Union. Though the rookie started in mid-August against Chicago, he left after 63 minutes looking like a distressing symbol of John Hackworth’s desperate attempts to rejuvenate a flagging squad.
On Friday night, however, Gaddis got another shot. And in taking it, he symbolized the identity the Philadelphia Union should have.
Industrious, strong defensively, aggressive, energetic. Gaddis was all these things. But more importantly: He was fearless. For a player who has been in and out of the lineup all season, getting a start through Sheanon Williams’ suspension is hardly assurance of future field time. After a man of the match performance, however, the coaching staff will struggle to keep Gaddis off the pitch.
The book on Gaddis out of college was that he would outwork anybody. His self-belief and athleticism would provide cover as he grew to understand the speed and tactics of MLS. Few thought it would happen so quickly.
Make no mistake: There will be matches in the future that see Gaddis struggle. It happens to all rookies. Most young fullbacks go through these struggles against the league’s most creative players. They shut down an opposition winger for a match and think they’re the bees knees. Then a MVP runner-up comes along and flicks them off their pedestal. Javier Morales huffed and puffed, but there was Gaddis every time. Fearless.
Peter Nowak emphasized slow player development. And maybe his system works with teenagers (we won’t know since Nowak shelved projects like McInerney and Okugo until John Hackworth dusted them off and let them shine). There is a lesson in the play of Michael Farfan and Ray Gaddis. Both players were college standouts who have shown they can play, and even excel, at a professional level. Both were thrust into larger roles than expected in their rookie seasons. And both play with the intensity and drive of underdogs.
The Philadelphia Union need to look at the play of Raymon Gaddis against Real Salt Lake and realize that for the forseeable future—2012 and beyond—they are underdogs. Having a hugely talented collection of young players means everyone says they expect great things, but they’ll be just as excited to see spectacular failure. Need an example? How about one that played eight minutes on Friday?
Ray Gaddis is PSP’s Player of the Week because he showed the fire that his team needs if it wants to punch above its weight. The Union can’t just outwork other teams, they have to outwork them by a lot. When RSL players say they expect to play a desperate team, they should leave PPL Park thinking they didn’t know anybody could be that desperate.
There is no shame in desperation. It’s why we play sports. We are desperate for a championship, and so few achieve it.
On Friday night, Raymon Gaddis played a desperate, beautiful game. Let’s hope for more in the future.