Photo: Paul Rudderow
Editor’s note: In Philadelphia, we’re all familiar with rants about sports. So once a year, PSP’s writers take several days to just flat out rave about players. They may not be the best players, but they’re players we like. Here’s another one in our Raves series.
Ray Gaddis looks like a choir boy.
It starts with his innocent face. That big, toothy smile. The bow ties. The paper heart on his shirt. So polite in person. Seemingly a bit shy. The kind of guy you’d trust your baby sister with. His body stretches just five feet and nine inches, but he seems all legs and arms. He stands slightly hunched.
Then you see him run.
It’s like someone pulled the gate off a cage and loosed the jackrabbit to burst out across the prairie.
Gaddis came into this season expected to compete but eventually lose out on the right back spot to Sheanon Williams.
Instead, he became the starting left back and never relinquished the job.
Sure, Gaddis struggled early on. It’s clear left back isn’t his natural position. His left foot is far weaker than his right. As a result, he doesn’t offer the attacking presence down the left that he brings on the right. The crosses don’t come in the same way. He’s a little more tentative.
For the season’s first half, he seemed over his head.
Now he seems like he absolutely must be in the lineup. He has steadily and subtly improved all season.
Gaddis brings something that is very much the character of Philadelphia Union. He may not be as rough as Sheanon Williams, strong as Conor Casey, or reckless as Danny Cruz. He is just quietly mentally tough and intense.
And he’s fast. He’s an absolute competitor. He may get out of position, but he never gives up on a play. It’s why he persevered through his struggles at left back to become a reliable and solid starter. His game-saving tackle against Robert Earnshaw last week may be the Union’s top defensive play of the year. He deserves to be in the lineup game in and game out. And when he’s on the right side, you see those attacking instincts kick into high gear. Few defenders can keep up with him.
Gaddis probably gets challenged more than any Union defender, and he answers with aggressive, tight man marking. He ranks sixth in the league in total tackles (89) compared to third in total times dribbled by (36). Early this season, Gaddis could be a defensive liability, particularly on set pieces. No longer. Yes, he still gets out of position at times, but it is that willingness to get out of position that allows him to make last-ditch defensive saves on the right side of the field when he’s actually playing left back. His speed is such that he can often recover for his defensive gambles.
The Union have one of those problems most teams would like to have. They have two good, young players competing to start at the same spot, and both are very valuable to the club and fun to watch. Sheanon Williams is as underrated as they come in MLS.
Gaddis is something else.
He’s a cheetah trapped in a choir boy’s body.