Ray Gaddis has seen everything in his nine-year career with the Philadelphia Union.
When he made his debut April 14, 2012, Freddy Adu played a role in earning the game-winning penalty.
Almost a decade later, the 30-year-old right-back recently made his 200th regular-season start and is viewed as an invaluable piece in defense and inside the locker room.
“First and foremost, Ray is a winner,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Ray is a guy that should wear the Philadelphia Union jersey for his entire career, however long that lasts, and I think he has a lot more good years in front of him.”
Gaddis has been able to adapt to two different tactical systems in the sporting director era of the club, which began when Earnie Stewart took over the position ahead of the 2016 season. Ernst Tanner then followed after Stewart took the general manager role with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
“I just love the game of soccer,” Gaddis said. “The game has given me so much. My dad always told me it’s not about where you play, it’s about being on the field when you’re playing. Being able to adapt is something that’s easy, especially with everything that’s going on in the world right now.”
“God has allowed me to perform at a high level, to be able to digest the information given to me, to be able to fit within these systems,” Gaddis said. “I just thank God for allowing me to have an open mind with everything. I think that’s one of the best attributes God has given me, is the mind to be able to adjust and enjoy it at any moment, even if we’re switching the system or playing whichever type of style.”
Although he has received plenty of praise throughout the MLS is Back tournament, Gaddis was quick to point out the job the entire team, not only himself, has done to reach the semifinal round.
“It’s a team thing,” Gaddis said. “As outside backs, we’re just doing what is being put in during the training sessions. It also comes with repetition. Every opposition we’ve gone against, we’ve always had the strength, in my opinion, on the width and Kai (Wagner) has done a great job.”
“When you have guys behind you like Andre Blake and Jack Elliott and Mark McKenzie, it makes it a lot easier knowing they are there to cover for you. They are allowing you to play with freedom and they trust you to play at a high level defensively as well.”
“The team from the top with Sergio (Santos) and Kacper (Przybylko) down to the middle to (Jamiro) Monteiro and (Alejandro) Bedoya and Brenden Aaronson, who has been playing lights out, and we’ve gotten to see his game rise every game. I’m so proud of him, as well as Mark McKenzie, and the way they are displaying their maturity. It’s not more or less about me as a defensive player, but I’m always a team guy.”
The team developed even more chemistry when it came together for its demonstration during the group-stage opener against New York City FC, when they wore the last names of police brutality victims on the back of their jerseys.
“I think the demonstration at the beginning of the tournament, collectively as a team I believe we have 13 different countries represented, helped the chemistry of the team, not just in the back line, but in the group,” Gaddis said. “Being able to advocate a message for reform in this country, but also come together to understand the different backgrounds and upbringings of individuals and why they may think a certain way, but also having a dialogue. I think that has really unified our group. I think that has brought the group closer together.”
The 30-year-old’s growth as a player has come alongside the development of Curtin, who has shown more tactical acumen during the Tanner era and has been praised throughout his career as a player’s coach.
“I would say it shows the pedigree that he holds,” Gaddis said of Curtin. “Being able to adapt so quickly with the personnel that’s in place, but also it shows his tactical presence and soccer knowledge being able to manage different players for various competitions and against various oppositions. He’s younger than a lot of his counterparts in this sector, but he has also displayed as a coach to be able to get the best out of his players.”
“I’ve played under many different systems at the club, but it just shows that he’s able to continue to get a result with the players,” Gaddis said. “He drives the players as well as the coaching staff to perform at a high level no matter the circumstances.”
Gaddis has always pointed out the strengths of his team and others around him first, but he did sneak in a defensive comparison to himself and a NBA legend that makes sense from an on-field perspective.
“I’m more of a Dennis Rodman or more of a guy who wants to do his job and is happy with playing his role on the team to make sure that we’re successful,” Gaddis said.
Rodman earned a role on the championship-winning Chicago Bulls teams because of his prowess around the rim. Gaddis has constantly drawn praise for his individual defensive ability as well.
“When you talk about 1v1, i don’t think there’s anyone better in the league than Ray,” Curtin said after the round of 16 win over the New England Revolution.
Once you take one step away from the field, the comparisons between Gaddis and Rodman end. Gaddis has been a model teammate and someone the younger players look up to.
“It’s huge having somebody you’ve looked up to and somebody who is open to talking with you and having a real conversation,” Union defender Mark McKenzie said. “He’s eloquent and is direct at the same time. He’s somebody who is well respected. To have that kind of personality in the team, somebody you can talk to on a daily basis, and just learn from, has so much wisdom and carries himself with so much poise, it’s huge and it inspires me to carry myself in a similar manner.”
“He’s a huge character for all the guys, especially for players coming in,” Union defender Jack Elliott said. “For me, when I came in, we had a little bit in common coming from West Virginia. He’s certainly a guy that looks to make you comfortable. Playing alongside him makes you feel comfortable too because he is more than likely going to win his 1v1 battles almost every time. As a person, he’s great to be around and fills the team with a lot of confidence.”
The goal now for Gaddis is to chase down the elusive trophy the Union have tried so hard in previous years to grab. The right-back played every minute of the three U.S. Open Cup final defeats in 2014, 2015 and 2018.
“It would mean the world,” Gaddis said of winning a trophy. “That’s the goal to bring the first trophy to the organization. This is a great competition in Orlando. Portland, Minnesota and Orlando are not going to make it easy. They are well coached teams as well. That’s the goal. I think that’s a pressing matter for this club right now, but it would mean the world.”