It is not the first time that FC Cincinnati defender Ray Gaddis will return to Philadelphia, a place he called home for eight years, but with each trip back, the fond memories return and appreciation of his blessings grow.
Gaddis, 33, was a staple at Philadelphia Union before he arrived at FC Cincinnati in 2022. He played 221 matches for the club, a record, and logged over 18,000 minutes, also a record, while holding down the back line for the Zolos.
Now FC Cincinnati returns to face the Union in a match with late season trophy and playoff implications. FC Cincinnati is fighting to earn their first MLS trophy, and Philly is looking to solidify its playoff position and work their way up the table for the MLS Cup Playoffs.
“It will always be a place that is very familial for me,” Gaddis said after training began Tuesday for the weekend trip to the City of Brotherly Love. “The fans are amazing. I know that even when I’m on the other side, wearing different colors, it’s always still a heartfelt response.”
There is a shared DNA, of sorts, between Philadelphia Union and FC Cincinnati. Beyond adding one of Philly’s most successful players, the brain trust at FCC cut its teeth with the Union before coming to institute a vision in Cincinnati. A vision that has played out, thus far, successfully and is looking to mirror Philadelphia’s recent success.
FC Cincinnati general manager Chris Albright began his front office career as an assistant technical director in Philadelphia in 2014 before being brought in to lead The Orange and Blue. Shortly after coming aboard, he brought then-Union assistant, now FCC head coach Pat Noonan, to lead the club on the pitch.
“The ultimate DNA component is just merely the winning pedigree,” Gaddis said of the similarities between the two clubs. “If you look at their track records, from being players, to (Albright) being a technical director at Philly and (Noonan) being an assistant coach, not only with the (U.S. Men’s) National Team but with the Galaxy, then Philly, they have brought all those winning ways here.”
After a successful tenure with Philadelphia Union, which crescendoed with winning a 2020 Supporters’ Shield title, Gaddis briefly retired before returning to play in the 2022 MLS season at the behest of newly named FC Cincinnati GM Albright.
“When Ray stepped away from the game … he was arguably playing at the highest level of his career,” Albright said at the time of Gaddis’ signing on January 5, 2022. “His character and leadership are second-to-none.”
“They know how to get the best out of players,” Gaddis said of Noonan and Albright. “Just trying to move this club forward, I think that’s what’s been the difference. The standard and the pedigree has risen here with FC Cincinnati.”
Since joining The Orange and Blue, Gaddis has made the trip back to Philadelphia twice, once in the regular season and once in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
“The first time, it was a little bit more of an array of emotions,” Gaddis said. “But now it’s more you see those guys you love on the other side and the fans you have relationships with, and then it’s just playing the game after that.”
But he still has fond memories of the people who supported him in Philly, and while he says the fans in Pennsylvania and Ohio aren’t the same, that’s what makes soccer culture special.
“It’s a totally different experience. I think that that’s what makes the game of football unique. Every supporters’ side is very different,” Gaddis said.
The veteran defender particularly highlights how in Cincinnati, fans have keyed in on his tucked-in style of wearing his kit as a rallying point for him. Whereas in Philly, the phrase ‘If Ray scores, we riot’ still makes its way back to him from fans.
“I think that that’s what makes it exciting. Both have great fan bases,” Gaddis said of the matchup. “The fandom for Philadelphia Union has continued to grow as they have won and likewise with us. Every time we take the field there’s a sea of orange and blue. Our fan base just continues to grow. I think it’s why we’ve won so many home games, it is in part the fans and their passion.”
The two clubs will square off at Subaru Park on Saturday.With 57 points and a nine-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield race, the matchup with fourth-place Philadelphia (14-8-4, 46 points) will be critical to the chase for FCC’s first MLS trophy.