July 12, 2017
Most people probably don't realize how many hurdles Raymon Gaddis has cleared during his six-year Philadelphia Union career.
A second round draft pick in 2012, Gaddis' rookie season saw the firing of Peter Nowak and a 10-18-6 finish under interim manager John Hackworth. The trade of fan-favorite defender Danny Califf saw Sheanon Williams pulled inside, creating a spot for Gaddis to pick up minutes at his natural right back position.
Less than a year later, stand-in left back Gabriel Farfan was also dealt, resulting in Gaddis being shifted over to the opposite side of defense. There were sporadic minutes on the right, but the bulk of Gaddis' 80 starts over the next two-and-a-half seasons were played at a mostly unfamiliar position.
Former assistant Jim Curtin was now in charge, becoming Gaddis' third manager in four professional seasons. A position battle on the right ensued, and Williams was eventually shipped to Houston, leaving Gaddis with the starting job and resulting in another role change.
That victory turned out to be ephemeral, as rookie Keegan Rosenberry came in and stole the job away six months later, relegating Gaddis to five starts and 514 minutes during the 2016 season.
Finally, fifteen months after that, the roles have flipped again, with Rosenberry struggling to recapture his rookie form and Gaddis playing a role in the defensive turnaround that pulled the Union out of the Eastern Conference basement and into playoff contention.
Throughout all of that, you didn't hear a single complaint from the 27-year-old Indianapolis native, who adheres to a strict family and faith-based code of professionalism and work ethic. There was no trade request and no whining about playing time, at least nothing that ever went public. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more humble player in Major League Soccer.
PhillyVoice sat down with Gaddis this week to talk about his return to the field, the evolution of his game, and his thoughts on playing alongside fellow West Virginia alumnus Jack Elliott.
PhillyVoice: Six wins, seven losses, and five draws going into the Gold Cup break ... where is this team right now and how good can you be?
Ray Gaddis: We haven't reached our potential for this season. Obviously, the first half is over, and going into the second half it's going to be up to us to make sure we get results, especially at home. Right now we are where we are in the table. I know we're capable of more and I believe in my teammates and our whole team.
PV: How do you feel the team has done defensively, especially over these last 10 to 12 games?
RG: I don't look at the stats too much. I know we got some shutouts but I take it one game at a time. I never get too high on how we're doing. I know people throw around (the idea) that we've been getting more shutouts. I know Jack and (Oguchi Onyewu)... I'm a big believer that it's a team game. Those two guys have played well, some crazy number, probably 700 minutes or so while allowing four or fewer goals. I say I don't look at stats but I'm aware mentally because I play the game. Those guys have done a tremendous job. The coaches just wanted me to come in and try to help the team. I've always tried to help first and I give all of the honor to the Lord. We've done OK. We've got a lot of work to do though.
PV: Well clean sheets are a team stat, right?
PV: You're part of the defense. You don't pay attention to that?
RG: Nah, not until the end of the season. The award is getting into the playoffs and then you look at all of that stuff afterward. You know that if you're getting clean sheets that you're taking care of business on defense. I don't look at that.
PV: How do you think you've done individually this year?
RG: I think this has been my best season from a maturity standpoint. I learned a lot in the first five seasons. This season I'm just taking it one game at a time. I'm just trying to help my teammates and any success that I have is from my teammates and myself putting in the work and trying to win (as a team). I know that, first and foremost.
Curtin: I think Gaddis is one of the best 1v1 defenders in our league— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) April 25, 2017
PV: How does it feel to be back on the field after sitting for the majority of last season?
RG: It's no different. I always approach every opportunity (the same way). You know, when God presents you with an opportunity, it's up to you to take that opportunity. I'm just grateful for the Lord believing in me and providing that opportunity.
PV: Was it difficult to not play much last year? To watch somebody claim your starting job and then having to fight to reclaim that job?
RG: The only thing I can control is what I can control. I know I gave my best effort day in and day out at practice. The team had great success last year and I was a part of that success. I mean, (the answer is) no because the Lord has given me patience and sometimes he wants to teach you things. It felt like last year was a learning year. Every year is a learning year, but last year was a learning year in different aspects. I got to work on things that I would not have gotten to work on if I did play. At the same time, it taught me to continue to be professional. I'm grateful for that, but I already knew that. My father taught me that, and my grandfather, too. But we had a great season last year, so there's nothing that took away from last year.
PV: Another layer to that is the fact that you and Sheanon Williams had a position battle back in 2015. He was eventually traded and Jim Curtin gave you the starting right back job. Then, a short time later, Keegan Rosenberry comes in and wins the job. How much did all of that, going back two years now, help build that character and get you to where you are now?
RG: I mean, since I've been here, nothing's ever been given to you. I understand that. That's my approach to life; nothing's ever going to be given to you. But I love competition, so I don't think of it any more or any less. One thing that the team knows and the coaches know and friends know is that I'm going to compete regardless of who's out there. You can only control what you can control. But I don't think anything more of it. You just go out and compete. That's what my dad told me to do at an early age, just compete, no matter what.
PV: You're way too modest, you know that?
RG: Nah, you gotta be humble. The Lord tells you to be humble, so just be humble, you know? I'm grateful for the opportunity to live out my dream.
PV: Do you like playing on the right more than the left? Does it really matter?
RG: It doesn't really matter at this point, as long as we get wins and I'm helping my teammates. The goal is to win trophies. There's the famous (line) – 'why else do you play?'
PV: You play to win the game.
RG: You play to win the game. Herm Edwards (laughs). That's what I'm out here to do, to help our team.
PV: Technically and tactically speaking, when you're on your strong foot, and you're playing the position you played in college, is more natural or easier to play there? Do you feel more comfortable on the right?
RG: Obviously it's more natural because I'm right footed, but playing on the left taught me how to see things better on the right side as well. It taught me to expand my game and it helped my left foot. Everybody always talked about, 'we don't have a left back,' but it really helped my game blossom. When I'm on the right side I can go inside on my left, and people might go, 'Oh, OK...' But it really helped my game and helped me develop as a player. I'm grateful for that experience, and anytime I play left back, it's no different. Coach tells me to play somewhere, I've always said, 'OK, I'm gonna play there.' I'm gonna make sure I can do it to the best of my ability. That's all the Lord asks of me, my family, and teammates.
PV: I think one of the things we've talked about, the media and fans, is that if you don't get those minutes at right back, then you can't evolve your game at your natural position...
PV: .. .but you see it as a positive, this idea that maybe you can understand the entire backline a little bit better, you improve your left foot and improve yourself in different ways.
RG: It's a positive. If you can play on both sides that's an asset to your team. The coaching staff knows you can play on both sides, and like I said, you never know where you're going to end up playing when you get your opportunities. You just continue to take them. It's about your perspective. What I see might not be from the stands, or the fans, or other people's standpoints, but I look at it as a developing process throughout my entire career. I'm very grateful for it.
PV: Is it nice to play next to another Mountaineer?
RG: Yeah man, that's like the running joke. Jack is like my little big brother. Before he came to the club we had a pretty good relationship. I always go back (to Morgantown), especially after the season for alumni weekend. I would always say 'what's up?' to the guys. I didn't ever act like I was above the program or anything like that. I realize that without that opportunity, (I wouldn't be where I am). That was one of the best decisions I had made, to go and play soccer in the Big East. I played against Dom Dwyer at South Florida, nationally ranked Rutgers, Saint John's, UConn with Andre Blake, who is now a teammate. But playing against him and beating him when they were #1 in the nation, those are experiences you don't forget. It helps with your maturity and it prepared me for the pro level. There aren't that many Mountaineers (in the professional ranks). You always hear about North Carolina, or Duke...
RG: Maryland, yea. Indiana. But we've got another Mountaineer now and I told him, 'make sure I get a Jack Elliott jersey to hang up.' I just got a Bruce Irvin (Oakland Raiders) jersey. He just sent me a jersey, so I've been getting all of my Mountaineer boys' (jerseys) for a man cave. All of my NFL guys have been making that up and now I've got another soccer guy, so it's great.
PV: Coach Marlon LeBlanc was here a few weeks ago. Did you get to speak with him?
RG: Yeah, he told us that he was going to come up. I got to spend some extended time with him and his family. They were my family at West Virginia, and the relationship has continued to grow. The Union coaching staff allowed him to come out here and watch practice so he can take some stuff back to West Virginia. But he had a fulfilled weekend and that's always great, to see our former coach. He actually came out to Kansas City to watch us. That was a tough game, but we got a result. It's always good to know that we have another support system.
PV: Does it help the program when you see two Mountaineers playing on the same backline for a MLS club? I'd imagine it's a good recruiting tool for Marlon down in Morgantown.
RG: I think it's definitely a pivotal recruiting tool that he has in his bag. I think college soccer has changed, obviously, because more players are turning professional, earlier. But he can say, 'look, I have two players, right now, (in MLS).' Players can look at that and say, 'well, obviously he's doing something right. They can say that these players came through the system and they're playing (in MLS). It's a great tool for the recruitment process."