Offseason Issues

Offseason Issues: Right back

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

The Philadelphia Union has what most teams would consider a good problem: Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis are both starting caliber right backs. Unfortunately, the cliché that good teams want two good players for every position is much better in theory than it is in practice. With two players able to start, the one that doesn’t is liable to be unhappy and may lose form or be a psychological drag on the rest of the locker room.

That this hasn’t yet been a significant issue for the Union is because the team has a separate problem: no starting caliber left back. Fabinho, for all his merits (and, yes, there are some), is not the answer, so Ray Gaddis has been doing his best to learn to play on the opposite side of the field, often admirably. But is that a long-term solution?

Sheanon Williams

Strengths: More solidly built and athletic, Williams can be a confident and versatile defender, able to play as an emergency center back, but his best skills are offensive. A willing runner, he overlaps well and gives intermittently good crossing service. His long throw is also a weapon. He has chipped in with some important goals, as well.

Weaknesses: Williams’s main problem is attitude and consistency. Still a Union stalwart and fan favorite, his lackadaisical and languid body language can now sometimes frustrate. Nothing is more irritating than seeing Williams slowly jog for a late throw when the Union needs to up the tempo. He has also had injury problems, which have affected his form, and led to fluctuations in performance. Injuries can’t be predicted, of course, but Williams hasn’t settled back into a groove with speed after suffering them.

Ray Gaddis

Strengths: Ray Gaddis is fast, possibly the fastest back in the league (though DeAndre Yedlin would beg to differ, surely). He is also an excellent on-the-ball, one-v-one defender. Gaddis single-handedly saved points for the Union in 2014 through his last ditch defending. His attitude is also superlative—Ray Gaddis is one of the real good people—and he never stops trying or gives up on plays.

Weaknesses: Gaddis’s positional awareness, especially with regard to balls in the air, needs improvement. He regularly misjudges balls over his head, and that has led to some goals scored by his man. Offensively, he is better on the right than the left, but still does not contribute as much as is expected of modern fullbacks. His crossing has seen some signs of growth, however. On the left, his severe right-footedness hampers him, and holds him back from making decisions as quickly as he might, and from getting involved in the attack.


Change nothing: Ray Gaddis’s struggles at adjusting to life as a left back are real, but his ability is such that he could probably start there for a fairly large number of MLS teams. That said, this is not the ideal solution. What the Union need is a specialist left back.

Keep Williams, trade Gaddis: Right back is a fairly deep position, league-wide, but Ray Gaddis would find takers immediately. This would represent the Union prioritizing Williams’s offense over Gaddis’s defense and locker room positivity, and while Williams is a cog in the offensive machine, his contributions don’t make that tradeoff worthwhile.

Keep Gaddis, trade Williams: If Sheanon Williams can be used to facilitate a trade to bring in a striker or left back, the Union should do it. Ray Gaddis, recently given an improved contract, deserves to start, and exemplifies everything that is good about professional athletes. Williams isn’t the slacker that his body language sometimes implies, but his effort is not equal to Gaddis’s. Gaddis’s deficits offensively and positionally can be improved, as well. In short, he’s a keeper.

Keep both, start one or the other based on form and opposition: If Williams cannot be used to good effect in the transfer market, then keeping him as Right Back 1B to Gaddis’s Right Back 1A is not the worst thing in the world (assuming a specialist left back is brought in). But it places pressure on him to keep his attitude right. Assuming he can, he still has a place on this roster, even if sitting behind an iron man like Gaddis (who started all 34 league games in 2014) would be hard for anyone.


As stated above, if the Union can only keep one, they should keep Ray Gaddis. His positives (and positivity) far outweigh any negatives associated with his play, and he has a bright future. The Union seem to agree, having awarded him the aforementioned improved contract. Sheanon Williams, for his part, has served the Union well, and assuming he is not used in a transfer, could still do so, if he is amenable to being a backup.


  1. With resigning Gaddis I think the Union have already made their choice. It wouldn’t surprise me if Williams was left unprotected in the expansion draft.

    • I definitely agree that the Union have likely chosen Gaddis over Williams, but they would be completely insane to leave him unprotected. Assuming Gaddis stays, Sheanon is one of the two most tradeable assets (along with MacMath) on the team. No way the Union can let him go for nothing…at least one would hope.

    • Section 114 says:

      Nonsense, you keep Williams (and MacMath) as they are two of your 9 most valuable chips. That said, don’t minimize the fact that Williams also deputizes pretty well at CB. barring someone paying fair value for Williams, I would not object to a five man rotation of Gaddis/Williams/Valdes/Real CB/Real LB. Between suspensions, injuries, Columbian national team, etc. that kind of depth is great and if you carry just another CB and maybe a young fullback is a very talented back line.



  3. You could probably keep Williams with nothing more than an offer of free candy.

  4. They will keep Gaddis due to his new contract deal. Williams can go for all I care. Yes I like him and he is a good offensive defender but his long throw ins have done nothing for the team ever and he has lost a lot due to injury. I’m really worried about our back-line bc all of the defenders that we want to stay have all been culprits of the disaster we’ve had due to the back this year. Yes they have played well here and there, but it seems that they are unorganized and someone is always out of position on counter attacks. They really need to start to gel next season and have organization. Otherwise I will still be skeptical.

  5. I really struggle to see this supposed attitude problem that Williams has. He’s definitely a fiery competitor who gets into scraps and loses his head, but there are tons of players that play on the edge like that.

    As far as being lazy jogging up for a later throw-in, most times he’s giving his teammates a chance to catch their breath and get into proper position for the throw-in. Many times, this happens when the team is feverishly trying to equalize or get back into a match so it’s good to make sure that the team has its proper shape before restarting play.

    If I had to choose between the two, I would pick Williams as he’s younger, is a more rounded player (his defensive work is underrated) and fits the mold of a modern fullback. The fact that he can play center back helps make his case as well.

    The reality is that neither of you them has enough market value to help the Union get what they really need (i.e. – left back, striker, goalkeeper depth…just kidding). I’d keep them both as they’re both valuable and versatile members of the team.

  6. Frankly, I would be sad to lose either of these guys. I do not agree with your perspective on Williams’ attitude. If he jogs up for a throw-in, the man is entitled to conserve a little energy so he can use it when it’s really needed over a 95-minute game. Williams’ biggest problem is his inconsistency, which may have been largely due to injuries.

    LB is a weak position in MLS. Having a real LB would be great, but I’m not sure we’re liable to do much better than Crossover Gaddis. I also agree very much with Section 114 that having a RB who can play LB, and a RB who can play CB, can be very valuable for depth during the long MLS season. So even if the Union got a real LB, I’d like to see both Ray and Sheannon stay. There would be enough work for 5 starting-caliber defenders easily.

  7. BTW, if the Union decide to get a real LB, they should target Corey Ashe on Houston.

    • And I made that comment before even realizing that Houston had traded Tally Hall last week (I’m a little behind clearly). MacMath or Blake for Ashe would make a lot of sense.

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