No season ever goes perfectly according to plan. But for Philadelphia Union, expectations and reality at the left back position diverged almost as soon as the regular season began. After a resounding win of New England Revolution, the Union fought Columbus Crew to a draw, but at halftime starting left back Fabinho exited with a leg injury. Ray Gaddis stepped into the breach, but the veteran was a right back by trade. In fact, he snapped the starting right fullback role from Keegan Rosenberry in 2017.
So in the third match of the year, newly signed homegrown left back Matt Real joined the back four as the Union put out the youngest back line in MLS history. The youngster started three matches but, with a teenager at center back, the Union struggled defensively on their left.
Gaddis, right footed and conservative going forward, was nothing like the two players he was replacing, and there was a real worry that his regular inclusion would make the team too right-sided in attack.
Beginning May 12, in a turning point win over at Stade Saputo in Montreal, Gaddis became the default starting left back and the Union became an increasingly right-leaning team. But this asymmetry, instead of becoming a limitation, grew into a defining feature of the team's identity. The defensively-stout Gaddis used the space granted by shifting defenses to stride forward and take at least one shot in six of his first seven matches (though he would take only two more -- both against NYC at home -- the rest of the season); he also added two assists in his first four starts as the number one choice on the left as Philly picked up huge points against teams they expected to fight for playoff positions.
"He's been asked to do a variety of things for the club and no matter what he's asked to do he does it to the best of his ability," Union head coach Jim Curtin said of Gaddis in early November. "He does it with hard work, and he's still one of the best 1v1 defenders that we have in our league at the outside back position. He's probably most comfortable on the right-hand side but this year was asked to play on the left and was one of the strongest guys on our back line."
The veteran, who plays a quiet but key role maintaining the club's strong locker room culture, only missed three more matches all season, all because his importance on the pitch for big matches necessitated rest.
Ray Gaddis both foreshadowed a defining theme of Philadelphia Union's season and symbolized how the club needed to respond to that theme to survive. Whether due to injuries (Gaddis), new players (Elliott), or a combination of bad luck and bad form (Sapong, Picault), the Union needed veteran players to take on role they had not anticipated stepping into at the start of the season. Even Haris Medunjanin embraced a more build-up-heavy style of play rather than remaining the primary provider he was in 2017. Gaddis won the right back job in 2017 but did not start there in 2018. Instead of complaining, he put in the work to become a reliable left back, and in doing so provided a level of comfort that allowed Auston Trusty to grow.
Now Gaddis goes into yet another offseason in which he may lose his starting role through no direct fault of his own (if only he were left-footed...). But no matter what, Gaddis will take his role in stride, and he'll work to win minutes and help the team. That's just the attitude he brings every day, and it's the one that everybody at the club respects.
"I know he's not a Philadelphian but he's about as close as you can get at this stage," Curtin, a Philly guy himself, said.
"He loves this city and he plays for the badge."