CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union will be without one of their best players for Friday’s match against Real Salt Lake at PPL Park (7:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), as right back Sheanon Williams serves a one-game suspension for the red card he picked up last week.
Luckily for them, that absence won’t hurt nearly as much as it could.
That’s because the Union have talented rookie Ray Gaddis, who is set to get the start at right back in place of Williams.
“When he’s played there, he’s done very well – probably well enough that he should have stayed there, had it not been for us having Sheanon and being deep in that spot,” Union interim manager John Hackworth said. “So this is a good opportunity for Ray to come in and I think Ray has done a really good job in the stretches where he’s played. And I think he’s absolutely most comfortable at right back. I’m looking forward to seeing him there.”
In his first season in MLS, Gaddis has earned nine starts, which included a seven-game stretch in April and May when Williams slid over to center back. Despite performing well in that time, the rookie out of West Virginia went back to the bench to allow Williams to return to his more natural position at right back and Amobi Okugo to make his way onto the field at center back.
Was it hard for Gaddis to go from the bench to the starting lineup and back to the bench again?
“I’m sure a little bit,” Hackworth said. “But for a rookie to have this kind of impact on a team, it’s impressive. And I think Ray wants to be in this league for a long time. … He just has to be consistent and keep growing and developing as a player.”
Gaddis, who’s one of the team’s more philosophical players, certainly seems to be taking whatever comes his way in stride, saying that his “mentality never changes” whether he starts or comes off the bench. So getting the chance to start in a virtual must-win game against one of the best teams in the Western Conference is not something that will give the rookie too many nerves.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure,” Gaddis said. “I’ve been playing soccer for the majority of my life. It’s something I look forward to. Why should there be pressure? I’ll go out there and have fun. And our objective is to get three points. I know when Coach calls my number, he trusts me to play and hold down the right back position.”
Hackworth also trusts him to continue to employ the same style the Union like to play, which often means getting their fullbacks all the way down the field in a hurry. He’s also counting on Gaddis’ speed to wear down an RSL side that’s set to play its third game in a week – although it should be noted that his speed can wear down pretty much any club.
“It doesn’t matter whether a team has heavy legs – because any time Ray Gaddis is running at you, you’ll have heavy legs,” Hackworth said. “The kid’s fast. But he’s a good soccer player, too. We hope to use that to our advantage. When we can get Ray forward, it unbalances a team.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.