Lost in the Kleberson-induced euphoria of last week's win over Toronto FC was a play less than 10 minutes earlier. A play that could be the defining moment of the Union's season, should they find a spot in the playoffs.
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With nine Union players pushed forward for a Sebastien Le Toux corner kick in the 87th minute of a 0-0 game, the ball was quickly cleared to midfield by Toronto. Union fullback Ray Gaddis tried to control the ball and head it to a teammate, but a tough first touch, and no Union players within 30 yards, left him all alone trying to defend a 3-man Toronto rush.
Gaddis' first touch is what ultimately caused the problem, but the second-year player -- who struggled with defensive positioning earlier this season -- immediately backed up and surveyed his options.
If you watch it again, Gaddis no sooner begins backpedaling when he perfectly reads the eyes of Alvaro Rey, realizing Rey is going to slide an early pass forward to Robert Earnshaw. If Gaddis stays with Rey for one more stride, there's no way he keeps up with Earnshaw seconds later.
Before Rey delivers the pass, Gaddis is already turned around and sprinting full speed to get alongside Earnshaw -- Toronto's leading scorer.
From there, Gaddis not only uses his blazing speed to stay with Earnshaw, he also perfectly positions himself on Earnshaw's inside shoulder. This forces Earnshaw just a little bit wider, but it also discourages him from trying to slide the ball back to Rey. As Earnshaw approaches the penalty area, Gaddis even slows down, begging Earnshaw to go wider and be selfish. When you're the only defender back, you have to pick your poison, and in this case, Gaddis (rightfully) decides he's better off turning it into a 1-on-1 than allowing Rey to rejoin the play.
Once inside the area, Gaddis is careful not to dive in for the ball, and he also takes away half the goal for Earnshaw to shoot at. This allows goalie Zac MacMath to take a step toward Earnshaw, and forces the Toronto forward to hesitate for an instant. It is then that Gaddis picks his spot and pokes the ball away.
To top it all off, Gaddis even keeps the ball in play and regains possession instead of kicking it out of play. Which leads almost immediately to a Union free kick at the other end.
Gaddis will have another big challenge Saturday night, despite D.C. United's horrendous record. The Union will be without starting right back Sheanon Williams (yellow card accumulation) and his most likely replacement, Fabinho (red card vs. Toronto). So don't be surprised to see seldom-used players like Chris Albright or Matt Kassel playing center back (with Amobi Okogu on the right), or even someone like Le Toux or Michael Lahoud starting at right back.
The Union absolutely, positively, no questions asked, need a win against lowly D.C. (7 p.m. - Comcast Network). If that happens, and the Union do make the playoffs, remember Ray Gaddis' heroics last Saturday night.
PREDICTION SURE TO BE WRONG
The Union have struggled to score in open play lately. And even usually stubborn manager John Hackworth (the longest-tenured coach in Philly sports) might have to put Kleberson in the starting lineup to avoid an absolutely all-out fan mutiny. Whether that leads to more attacking play, we shall see.
Ironically, I think Saturday's game will come down to something the Union haven't seen all season: a penalty kick. Games at RFK are often wild and out of control, and I have a feeling the Union will draw their FIRST PENALTY of the entire season, then tack on another one late to secure the win.
UNION 2, D.C. UNITED 0