CHESTER, Pa. – When the Philadelphia Union announced the signing of goalkeeper Oka Nikolov a few weeks ago, head coach John Hackworth made sure to say that Zac MacMath would remain the starter in net.
The Union manager is saying the same thing about starting left back Raymon Gaddis following last week’s acquisition of Brazilian defender Fábio Alves, a.k.a. Fábinho.
“It’s still Ray’s job,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “We asked him to play on his unnatural side but I think he’s done a fantastic job. Ray epitomizes a lot of the things the staff asks of our players. And he has improved dramatically. If you said a year ago that Ray Gaddis would be a starting left back and play as well as he’s had, there probably would have been some people that would have questioned that.”
While there have been some shaky moments for him – most recently, a hand ball in the box that led to the game-tying penalty-kick goal in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake – Gaddis is one of just four players on the club to start all 18 games this season. And the second-year player has drawn praise for his performance from coaches and teammates.
But the Union hardly have any natural defenders on the bench, which is why Hackworth opted to bring in Fábinho, a left back who last played with Sydney FC in the Australian A-League.
Fábinho, who trialed with the Union before signing, will first be eligible for Philly’s home game against Chivas USA next Friday.
“We needed some defensive cover and depth,” Hackworth said. “Clearly, we didn’t have a true left back on our roster after the loss of Gabe [Farfan]. Don Anding has been kind of an understudy for us there all year but he needs more time to develop. Adding some depth to our defense, but very specifically having a true left back on our roster – a true left back with a lot of experience – that’s what we were kind of looking for.”
As with Nikolov, Hackworth likes Fábinho’s character and believes he will add a good dynamic to the locker room, even if it’s in a reserve capacity. He also likes the technical ability of Fábinho, who becomes the second Brazilian signing this season and the third Brazil native on the team. (World Cup veteran Kléberson and rookie Leo Fernandes are the others.)
“It’s certainly not a secret that Brazilians are very good on the ball,” Hackworth said. “They bring a lot of qualities that I put a lot of emphasis on, with a little bit of creativity, a little bit of ingenuity and a little bit of flair. But that doesn’t mean you come into MLS and compete. You have to have a player that understands the demands of this league and you have to be very strong mentally.
“The mentality part and the character part is very important to us -- and we like Fábinho that way.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.