As we count down the days until the MLS season begins, we will be looking at 25 players from greater Philadelphia who have made an impact on the league 25 years after the first ball was kicked. Read the rest of the series at brotherlygame.com/philly-mls-25.
Central Pennsylvania native Bill Gaudette doesn’t quite have the track record of some of professional soccer’s most famous journeymen. Nonetheless, during his seven years of playing professional soccer he managed to play for teams all across the United States and Canada before concluding with a spell representing the Puerto Rico national team. Not bad for a goalkeeper from Hummelstown, Pennsylvania.
After graduating from Lower Dauphin high school in Hummelstown, Gaudette had the opportunity to play for a St. John’s Red Storm soccer team that was coming off of a NCAA D1 National Championship in 1996. He would go on to see his share of success during his time at St. John’s as the team finished in third place in the 2001 tournament and they were runners up in 2003. In an interesting twist, St. John’s lost to Indiana both times.
After college, Gaudette would find his way to Major League Soccer when the Columbus Crew selected him as the 9th overall pick in the 2005 MLS Supplemental Draft (the same draft where Chris Wondolowski was selected). He was already familiar with Crew Stadium in Columbus, since that’s where St. John’s had played their final two matches in the 2003 NCAA tournament.
But Gaudette’s collegiate success didn’t immediately follow him to Columbus. The Crew struggled during his three seasons with the team and he only managed to make a handful of appearances. After the 2007 season, it was clear that William Hesmer was going to be the Crew’s starting goalkeeper going forward, so Gaudette would need to look elsewhere for starting opportunities.
It was a missed opportunity for the goalkeeper because the Crew went on to win the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup in 2008.
Gaudette would find a fresh start thanks to Colin Clarke, the new head coach of the Puerto Rico Islanders of the USL First Division. Clarke had formerly coached for FC Dallas and he had been impressed by Gaudette’s performance with the Crew. So when Clarke took the reins in Puerto Rico, he outreached to Gaudette’s agent and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Gaudette’s three seasons with the Islanders were the best of his career. The team experienced league success right away by winning the 2008 USL First Division Commissioner’s Cup for the best regular season record. They progressed to the finals in the playoffs, but they lost the championship match to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
In addition to the team’s success, Gaudette received his biggest individual award in 2008 when he was named the USL First Division Goalkeeper of the Year. His teammate (and former Philadelphia KiXX player) Jonny Steele was selected the league’s MVP.
The Islanders would later get their revenge on Vancouver in 2010 as they defeated them in the playoffs on their way to winning the championship in the short lived USSF Division 2 Pro League. It was the only year of the league’s existence, since it was only formed in 2010 as a stopgap compromise between the USL and NASL.
But some of Gaudette’s most memorable achievements came during the Concacaf Champions League. The Islanders were able to qualify for the tournament all three seasons that he was on the team through their performance in the Caribbean Club Championship. The club was immediately successful and each season they managed to knock off a first division team in order to advance to the group stage of the tournament. They took down Alajuelense from Costa Rica in 2008, Toronto FC in 2009, and LA Galaxy in 2010.
Their best single year came during the 2008-2009 tournament where they advanced out of the group stage along with Santos Laguna. In the quarterfinals, they were able to defeat Honduran club Marathon 3-1 on aggregate to advance to the tournament semifinals.
They were matched against Cruz Azul in the semifinals and they even managed to win the first leg in Puerto Rico by a 2-0 scoreline. They played tough during the second leg at Estadio Azul, but an 84th minute goal by Javier Orozco forced the match into extra time. From there it went into penalty kicks, where the Islanders ultimately fell 4-2 in the shoot out.
After three successful years with the Islanders, Gaudette made the move to the Montreal Impact, then playing in NASL. Because of the league turbulence in U.S. Soccer at the end of the decade, it would be his third league in as many seasons. He would make just nine appearances with the team and they didn’t retain him when they moved to MLS the next season.
Once again unattached, Gaudette got another opportunity because of a strong past performance. This time it was from the LA Galaxy, the team that the Islanders had knocked out of the Champions League in 2010. The Galaxy needed another goalkeeper and Gaudette’s performance during the preseason was strong enough to earn him a contract offer.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance to stay with the future 2012 MLS cup winners as he was dealt to the New York Red Bulls midseason. He had more starting opportunities with the Red Bulls, but his time with the team was ultimately hampered by injuries. The Red Bulls didn’t offer him a contract for 2013.
Although his 2012 season was his last, it also gave him his first taste of international football. After his time playing for the Puerto Rico Islanders, Gaudette had established full time residency on the island. This made him eligible for selection for the national team.
In just his third match with the Puerto Rican national team, Gaudette would face his greatest test as they had their historic match against Spain. He would make an incredible 17 saves as Puerto Rico fought a mostly full strength Spanish side to a narrow 2-1 loss.
In the years since his retirement, Gaudette reported to Once a Metro in 2015 that he had primarily taken up Ironman competitions because he enjoyed the all the training that went into the preparation. He was also looking into coaching opportunities, including spending some time as the goalkeeping coach with the Jersey Express in what was then known as the PDL (the current USL League Two).