Featured / MLS / Union

WVU head coach Marlon LeBlanc on Raymon Gaddis

West Virginia head coach Marlon LeBlanc spoke to The Philly Soccer Page about coaching Raymon Gaddis for the past four years. With 2012 Olympic qualifying running from March 22 – April 2 and Sheanon Williams in the middle of the national team’s plans, there is a good chance Peter Nowak will scratch Gaddis’ name on the lineup card sooner rather than later. To say LeBlanc believes Gaddis will answer the call would be something of an understatement.

What type of player was Raymon in college?

I think Raymon was arguably one of the most athletic players at the Division I level – and not just the Division I level – at the cream of the crop in terms of competition. He’s in that 1 percent in terms of the ability that he has just from an athletic standpoint. It’s not too often, and this is the comment we mostly got, ‘No. 13 is the best player on the field,’ and No. 13 is our right back. And it’s not too often you go to a game and the right back is the best player on the field.

We were able to do some things from an attacking standpoint and take some risks because we have the ability for Ray to play box-to-box from the right back position. And I think that’s what set him apart from most of the people out there. His pace, his athleticism, his determination, his ability to make plays on both sides of the ball, the amount of ground he covers, his stamina, his fitness level, they were all in that one percent. Because of that we were able to take some risks in terms of our attack and bringing people forward, and bringing him forward.

Ray came to us as ‘the’ guy, but he was humble enough to accept the role and the challenges we gave him

His development over the four years [at West Virginia] has been tremendous. He gets a lot of comparisons to Marvelle Wynn in terms of his athleticism. I don’t know a whole lot about Marvelle, when I was at PSU we may have seen him once or twice in the NCAA tournament, but Ray’s got a very good tactical understanding of the game and his ability to technically handle the ball is very, very sharp to go along with that athleticism. Over the last four years he has been able to refine that, and his coachability is tremendous, and I don’t think he’s anywhere near his potential yet.

Having him around better players is going to challenge him. And he’s one of those kids, the better the environment the better he is and the more he learns. And being in that one percent, it’s difficult to challenge him everyday. And we’ve got good players and we play good teams, but him being in Philly, I’m very keen and interested to see exactly how good Ray can be. He’s going to be challenged there every day and if he makes a mistake he’s going to be exposed for it.

So you think challenging him at this new level is something he’ll respond to?

Exactly. That’s the other thing that sets him apart. I don’t know if you’ve spoken to him but he’s a very, very determined young man. There’s nothing that gets in the way of his football. Academically, coming out of high school, Ray wasn’t a great student. But he came to West Virginia and applied himself and was a Dean’s List student, it was over a 3.0 that he graduated with.

If you have the opportunity to speak with him, you’ll find that he’s very, very serious and very, very driven. There’s no doubt that a pro environment is going to bring the very best out of him and he’s going to bring the best out of a lot of other guys when they see him come out and work on a daily basis; he’s got that pro mentality already. I think that’s one of the things the Union—and John Hackworth knows him well—saw in Ray.

Ray has always been at the top of what he does, but he will probably start below Sheanon Williams on the depth chart. Do you think playing the role of backup is something he will struggle to adjust to?

He’s not going to just sit around and take a reserve role. If there is one thing Philly is going to get, it’s a kid who comes every day playing for a spot, whether he’s starting or not. That’s one thing we had to do here—and we did a good job of it—is let him work as hard as he can every day. He’s going to make it as difficult on management as possible.

He’s basically said, wherever they want me to play, I’ll play. Because he knows he can do it.

One of the things that I like about the organization that drafted Ray, Philly is very good at moving people around and getting guys on the field and utilizing the strengths of their players. Guys like Michael Farfan and Sheanon Williams, these guys who weren’t necessarily high on everybody’s boards. You know Sheanon left UNC and spent a couple years not in MLS, John [Hackworth] was excited to get Michael, and Ray is one of those guys who has the ability to play a number of spots.

So Ray fits in very well there, and he has a number of intangibles that allow him to do a number of things for you. I think where he is in terms of the organization is a perfect fit because, as you said, he has a pretty established person in front of him at right back, but he’s going to deal well with whatever gets thrown at him because he has the ability to do whatever Philadelphia needs. And that’s the attitude he’s taken on too. He’s basically said, wherever they want me to play, I’ll play. Because he knows he can do it.

I’ve heard Ray has great leadership skills. Is that something he has had since he arrived or did he grow into his role as a leader?

A little of both. He has always been a very serious young man. If you watch him train, you’d think he was angry. And that’s just because of his approach to the business aspect of going out and training every day. A little bit of that was developed here because we put him in a position where he had to be a leader early on.

The kid has the intangibles. If he gives the ball away, the first thing he’s going to do is coming right back after you. He’s not going to drop his head when he makes a mistake, he’s not going to celebrate when he does something great. He goes about the business aspect of taking care of things. So he’s going to drive the other guys.

He always comes out of it because he’s going harder than the other guy.

A great opportunity he’s had is to go out the past couple summers and spend some time with a couple MLS franchises so he’s not going to be a fish out of water when he gets out and goes to training. He’s going to be confident and he knows that he can go in and he can play and he can get there right away. I think the adjustment period for him will be like it is for many young guys, it’ll be matching up to the pace of the game. But I think for him it’ll be quicker than most because he’s been exposed to that before.

What are Ray’s distribution skills like? How is he as a crosser?

That’s something Ray’s been pretty good at. We spend a lot of time tracking the passing of our guys and the range, and Ray’s been pretty good completing passes out of the back. One of the areas we work very hard with him on, and that he will continue to do, is putting in the cross on the run. It’s something he’s pretty apt at but, like most players, it’s something he needs to continue to work on and be more proficient. He’s going to put himself in those situations often, now he just needs to make sure he has the complete package in terms of the service and quality. I think that being in a pro environment, he’s going to have to adapt and get better.

That’s the type of kid he is, he’d run through a brick wall if you ask him to.

At the collegiate level, even though the cross isn’t perfect, it could still get through because the defending isn’t good enough. So he can still play a ball through with ease that he won’t be able to do at the pro level. He’s going to have to be better at that aspect of his game, but he’s going to provide a lot of opportunities for others because of what he can do.

The intangibles again, he was injured for much of October, and even when we brought him back he was still injured and we played him in the midfield as a ball-hawking midfielder. He was probably on about 70 percent in terms of what he could do. He went down in the UCONN game after a dominating first half. We beat UCONN when they were No. 1 in the country, 2-0 here at home. Right before halftime he gets his ankle stepped on and doesn’t play again til the Big East tournament. If you ask Ray, he has a picture of his ankle right when it was stepped on, it’s probably one of the nastiest things you’ve seen, because his knee was sublexed to where it was parallel to the ground and it was a high ankle sprain.

That’s the type of kid he is, he’d run through a brick wall if you ask him to. He wanted to play, and we certainly needed him to play, but the young man was a month away from his future and we didn’t want to injure him beyond repair so we held him out as long as we could and brought him back late in the year. And I think a lot of people made their assessment of him at 70 percent playing out of position.

I think that’s a testament to John and Rob and Peter at Philly in terms of what they do with the college kids in terms of knowing who is out there and who is capable of playing at the next level. Brendan Burke and I have had many conversations about getting our best players out to Reading, and those guys have a very good idea of who is out there because they’re doing their research and not just banking on the combine.

I think a lot of people judged Ray based on his last couple games when he was hurt and hadn’t played in four weeks. I’ve known John since he was at South Florida and he has always done his research. I’ve gone to scout games at the NCAA tournament and I’ll see him there. John’s known Ray since he was running the U-17 national team, and I think getting Ray out of the second round was a great move for them. So kudos to them and I think he’ll be a great pro for them.

When guys who are used to playing every day go down with an injury like Ray did, it can be hard to deal with. How did he handle that adversity?

He just wanted to play and help the team. That was at a time in the year when we were picking up some steam, we beat UCONN at home when everyone was talking about them being the best team in America. Ray is the type of kid who plays at 100 percent all of the time and he gets himself into some tackles that you’d normally cringe at but he always comes out of it because he’s going harder than the other guy.

But this was a thing where he wasn’t going into a tackle. When you see the picture you’ll literally cringe. He gets stepped on from behind and he’s really hurt. And he’s trying to get up but he’s really hurt. And they carry him off, and the first thing he does is he gets taped up, comes out of the locker room, and he’s trying to run on it. So he’s not thinking “what about my ankle, am I going to be able to play again”? All he’s thinking is: Can I get back out there and help my team. And over the next few weeks all he’s saying is “Coach I can go, coach I can go.”

You’re getting a kid here of the highest character. And the more you read about how pros assess players, you’re getting a kid who is at the top of the pyramid.

Do you think that having so much athleticism lets Ray lean on it as a crutch? He can make up so much ground on an opponent, can it be tough for him to have a learning experience?

You hit the nail on the head. That’s one of the challenges of the collegiate level. You don’t have the ability to punish players for mistakes all the time. I can tell him til I’m blue in the face that he has to pinch in a little bit more, but until he gets exposed for it, it’s really hard to prove it to him. Because he knows he can recover in certain areas.

So what he has to do now – and unfortunately Sebastien Le Toux has moved on – because Le Toux is that guy who has the ability to fade away in those little areas where you can lose him for half a second and he’ll punish you for it. Ray training against that on a daily basis, he’s going to have to adapt and he’s going to get better.

It was a challenge for us as a staff to prove those things to him, especially when the best teams in the country couldn’t punish him for it. The type of kid you’re getting, he isn’t going to cheat because he’s more athletic. As soon as he gets punished he’ll make the adjustment.

What do you tell Ray as he heads off to MLS? What’s the takeaway message from his college career?

You don’t have to say much to a kid like Ray. What we’ve done here is prepare him to go off into an environment like MLS and prepare him to do well. So, we work very very hard on the character development and the ability to take a kid with talent and develop him, and I think he’s going to develop a lot more on the next level. For him to go in and learn and keep an open mind as to the instruction he gets.

A lot of talented kids can be hard to coach because they’ve never been coached before. Because they’ve always been the best, and they’ve always been allowed to do whatever they want to do. So when they get into an environment where those restrictions are there. And when guys don’t make it at that next level, it’s because they’ve never not been ‘the’ guy before.

Ray came to us as ‘the’ guy, but he was humble enough to accept the role and the challenges we gave him and because of that he has become a better player. And I think that, along the lines of a Michael Farfan, he’s going to take instructions and give them results. And I think over time, Ray will have to make it into the team because he’s a guy where you go, ‘We have gotta get him on the field.’ We told him ‘Don’t play with any fear’ but I don’t think that’s a problem. He’s a confident guy.

And he is fully recovered from that ankle injury now?

Before he went home for the holidays, he said he was back at 100 percent. It’s a high ankle sprain and those things take time that you don’t have in the college soccer season. But with the rest that we gave him, he’s had two months now. And he’s back and he’s been training hard. So he’ll be good to go. You wouldn’t be able to tell he was injured.

4 Comments

  1. Ed Farnsworth says:

    Now I really want to see this young man in action.

  2. Great info here. It’s totally obvious the coach has respect for Gaddis. Look forward to seeing him on the Union.

  3. Ray is a great kid. Really super nice and will be a credit to the U. Extremely excited about the upcoming matches and showing us what he’s made of. I hope he get’s some starts so we can see what hard work and dedication can do!! Did I mention he was super nice?

    Cannot WAIT for March 18th (and 12th)

Leave a Reply to Ed Farnsworth Cancel

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

%d bloggers like this: