CHESTER, Pa. – Back in January, Raymon Gaddis drove about 500 miles from his home in Indianapolis to the MLS SuperDraft in Kansas City, even though there was a chance he wouldn’t be selected.
“When he was there,” Philadelphia Union manager Peter Nowak recalled, “he said, ‘Coach, I’ll be there when you need me.’”
Union react to first win of season
That day came Saturday.
With captain and center back Danny Califf a late scratch because of a hamstring injury, Gaddis – the Union’s final selection (and 35th overall) in the 2012 SuperDraft – was called upon to make his MLS debut.
The rookie out of West Virginia responded with a strong effort from his right back position, helping the Union post a 1-0 shutout over the visiting Columbus Crew, for their first win of the season.
“When your name’s called, you’ve got to perform,” Gaddis said. “I was already confident in my game but this does wonders for my confidence – playing a full 90 and getting three points.”
As debuts go, this one began rather inauspiciously as Gaddis wasn’t informed he’d be starting until just a few minutes before kickoff. Throw in the fact that the Union were still searching for their first win and Saturday’s game could have been overwhelming for any first-time starter.
But the 22-year-old defender said he didn’t feel any nerves and never let the magnitude of the moment affect his performance. For that, he credits his teammates.
“They were encouraging me before the game, during the game – that’s all I could hear,” Gaddis said. “They were like, ‘Come on, Ray. Come on, Ray.’ Everyone out on the pitch just helped me make my transition to an actual professional game.”
Gaddis specifically pointed to Sheanon Williams, the Union’s normal right back who shifted over to center back after Califf was scratched, as being instrumental in his successful debut.
“Sheanon, he was behind me, conducting me, telling me to do this and do that because he has a lot of experience [at right back],” Gaddis said. “My teammates helped me tremendously.”
While Gaddis said he didn’t feel nervous, Nowak thought the large crowd may have prevented the rookie from pushing deep into the offensive third — as is the custom for Union fullbacks — early in Saturday’s contest. But as the game wore on, the Union manager said that Gaddis “was not shy going forward.”
For the speedy Gaddis, that is something he says he likes to do.
“It puts the other team under a lot of pressure and creates other opportunities and avenues for players to distribute the ball,” he said. “That’s what the coaching staff preaches – to get up and down the line. It’s expected of you, and I enjoy it.”
What now for Gaddis? Well, that depends on the severity of Califf’s hamstring injury and if Nowak feels more comfortable using Williams or veteran Chris Albright at center back. But no matter his role throughout the rest of the season, Gaddis is hungry to improve on what was a very successful first professional game.
“I thought I defended 1-on-1 very well,” he said. “Areas I need to improve on is keeping more possession for the team and just making sure my body position is correct on the backline.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com.