CHESTER, Pa. – Subbing in a defender who had never before played a minute in a professional game for the veteran anchor of your team’s backline is not typically a recipe for defensive success.
But with Philadelphia Union captain Danny Califf a late scratch because of a hamstring injury, Philly manager Peter Nowak had no choice but to give rookie Raymon Gaddis his first MLS start and push right back Sheanon Williams over to central defense.
Somehow, it worked out beautifully.
With Califf in the locker room, Gaddis, Williams and the rest of Philly’s revamped backline led the Union to a shutout in Saturday’s 1-0 win over the visiting Columbus Crew.
WATCH: Nowak on Califf injury
“Danny couldn’t go so we made a quick adjustment,” said Union defender Gabriel Farfan. “We couldn’t dwell on it too much. We had to get over it. Danny is a big part of our team but we have guys who can fill in.”
Farfan got the call at left back ahead of Porfirio López (who had started the first four games for Philly), which meant that only center back Carlos Valdés was in the same spot on the backline as in the Union’s opener.
The biggest surprise was Gaddis, one of the final selections of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. But the West Virginia product looked strong and in control at right back, even making some long runs into the offensive third, which of course is part of the job description for a Union fullback.
“The whole team helped each other out and the whole backline did a great job of making sure we had cover for each other,” Williams said. “Ray did a great job. It’s his first game so I’m sure there were some nerves. I’m proud of him, proud of the other guys and proud of our team for going through this fight and getting our first win.”
For Williams, moving over to center back was certainly an adjustment but something he knows how to do, having played there in college and one game last season for the Union. Still, it’s not something he particularly likes.
“It’s just different from right back,” Williams said. “Something I like to do is go forward. When you’re playing center back, it kind of limits your chances unless you’re playing for Arsenal or one of those teams where their center backs just bomb forward.”
Despite his preference for right back, Williams did a fine job centrally, helping hold Columbus to just one shot on frame and leading the Union to back-to-back shutouts for the first time since September 2011.
Now the question for the Union is when Califf returns. After the game, Philadelphia manager Peter Nowak did not say when he expects his captain to get back to full health but did note that it was Califf’s decision to sit.
“Danny didn’t feel well after the game against Vancouver [two weeks ago],” said Nowak, who surprised Califf – and just about everyone else – when he sat him for the Union’s home opener on March 19 with a then-undisclosed injury. “The hamstring started to get tight so we put him on hold over the bye week we had. The doctors did a pretty good job to try and bring him back. By Friday, he started feeling it again but he was in the starting lineup. He felt it was worse [today].
“It’s not me,” Nowak added to laughs. “I love Danny Califf. Don’t get me wrong.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WATCH: Nowak, Philly defense delighted with shutout