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Ray Gaddis steps up as Union shuffle defense to add experience

The Union's experiment of playing the youngest defense in Major League Soccer history was noble, but it has been put on hold for the time being.

Ray Gaddis has returned to the Philadelphia Union’s starting lineup, this time as a left back.
Ray Gaddis has returned to the Philadelphia Union’s starting lineup, this time as a left back.Read moreGreg Caroccio/Philadelphia Union

The Union's noble experiment of playing the youngest defense in MLS history was done partly out of pragmatism when Fabinho, the left back, got hurt. But there was some principle involved: Auston Trusty (age 19) and Matthew Real (18) had proved they deserved a chance to play, so they got their shot.

While both have had impressive moments, Trusty has been far more consistent. Real has had enough bad moments that manager Jim Curtin decided he needed some veteran savvy on the field. So he called on Ray Gaddis to step up.

Gaddis is a right back by trade, but he has played the left side enough to know it and he has been one of the Union's most loyal defenders in his nine years here.

Gaddis has started the past two matches and likely will again on Friday when the Union visit reigning champion Toronto FC (8 p.m., PHL17). Fabinho is healthy enough to travel but doesn't seem healthy enough to start.

"With the youth that we have on the back line, we wanted to try to give [the lineup] a little bit of experience, a little bit of a comfort level," Curtin said after Saturday's 3-2 win over D.C. United.

Gaddis has been a good one-on-one defender but hasn't always excelled at launching attacks with runs forward – a necessary skill in the Union's tactical system. It's more difficult for Gaddis when he's playing left back because he's right-footed – that means it's harder for him to hit a cross on the run.

He did get forward a few times on Saturday, though, and looked good doing it.

"I'm the type of person who, whatever's asked of me, I just try to step up and do it," Gaddis said. He credited assistant coaches Pat Noonan and Dick Schreuder for "coaching up and showing different things to not only myself but the team as well."

A left back must be good partners with two players in particular: the center back (next to him) and the winger (in front of him).

The center back is Trusty, who saluted Gaddis for bringing "a presence to the game, with leadership and the overall veteran experience he has."

The winger is David Accam, whom Gaddis often faced head-to-head when the Ghanaian was with the Chicago Fire.

"It's good having a player as electrifying as David ahead of you," Gaddis said. "When you're behind him, you never know what he's going to do, and if I don't know, I know the other defenders don't either."

Rest assured Gaddis usually knows. He said he and Accam have "a good partnership." Accam said the respect is mutual.

"One-on-one, it's difficult to get past him, and even when you get past him he's back to recover," Accam said. "It's good to have him behind me, because I know I can rely on him even when I don't have the time to recover."