(Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz)
Editor’s note: At the end of the 2010 season, we posted a series of “Raves” about our favorite Philadelphia players. They need not be the team’s best players, but they’re guys and gals we like. Over the next two weeks, we continue the series again with some of the PSP writers’ and contributors’ favorite players of 2011.
It’s easy for a player to have a good attitude, to be likeable and selfless when things are going great. But what about when that most dreaded of things, the inevitable slump, strikes a player? How a player handles himself when the goals don’t come as easy as they once did is an indication of the type of player, and person, he is.
At the end of the 2010 MLS season, Sebastien Le Toux was the toast of the town. He found the back of the net 14 times, with many of his tallies highlight reel material. He showed his selfless play by dishing out 11 assists. In all, he had a hand in 25 of the Union’s 35 goals. Very impressive for a player who came to Philly through the expansion draft with one MLS goal to his name. He developed a relationship with the young Danny Mwanga that looked to yield goals for both players for seasons to come. He became the face of the team, a corporate spokesman and in many ways the person who defined soccer in the Delaware Valley.
2011, at least the start of it, was a vastly different story. All signs pointed to Le Toux picking up where he left off, except one: the Union’s acquisition of one Carlos Ruiz. The striker was wedged into the middle of what first was a 4–3–3, pushing Le Toux out wide to the right. And there he toiled, in a place he played so ineffectively for Seattle Sounders that he was left unprotected in the expansion draft. Game after game we were treated to Ruiz’s lack of hustle and leaden touch. Le Toux gave his typical maximum effort but that effort unfortunately yielded no goals.
There were calls by this writer and others to bench Seba. “Give him a break, let him see the game from a different perspective” was the logic put forth. Even in the Union’s blow out 6-2 victory at Toronto, the Frenchman had no joy.
Was 2010 an illusion?
Was Le Toux just a journeyman who caught lightning in a bottle?
Even without the goals, Le Toux did everything he could to make an impact. His fitness was never called into question. His tireless runs made space for other players. And he turned provider, leading the team in assists for most of the year.
Off the field, Le Toux always stood tall. His post-game autograph sessions are the stuff of legend, and he never backed down from the public. Seba made only one statement when answering a question from a reporter about his position on the field, saying, yes, his preferred position is up front. But that was the extent of it. He knew, and we knew, the goals would come. Once they did, the gates would be opened.
We had to wait until the wild, hurricane-delayed 4–4 match versus New England Revolution for Seba’s first goal in open play at PPL Park of the 2011 season (he tallied his first open play goal of 2011 at Real Salt Lake only four days before), scoring the equalizer in injury time to cap one of the most memorable nights ever at PPL Park.
Le Touch was back. It was game on. His 10 goals in 12 games powered the Union into the postseason where he scored the team’s first playoff goal at home against Houston.
Without a doubt, it was a roller coaster ride for Sebastian Le Toux in 2011. But in many ways it was so much more rewarding than the 2010 campaign. Because watching him push himself through a protracted goal-scoring drought, and doing it with a quiet dignity, proved to the Union faithful what we suspected all along: Sebastian Le Toux has the heart of a lion and the will of a champion.