Photo: Paul Rudderow
When Philadelphia Union take the field Saturday at PPL Park for their last game of 2012, they’ll see a familiar face in a Red Bulls uniform. After a tumultuous season, one can only wonder how many Union fans will quietly ask themselves this question:
Could Sebastien Le Toux return to the Union next year?
The answer is yes.
Here’s why and how.
The Union lack a proven second starting striker to pair with Jack McInerney, who needs more support up top regardless of the Union’s formation. Union management has indicated they’re looking for “big time forwards,” and then more recently word dripped out that this could be a stretch-the-field type.
To many, the latter may come as a surprise, because one would think they would want a taller forward to pair with 5-10 Jack McInerney on one of the league’s shortest teams. Le Toux isn’t known for his strength or aerial play.
Still, McInerney is no speedster and has proven surprisingly adept at hold-up play, though few would mistake him for a target forward. So it’s entirely possible (though not necessarily probable) Union manager John Hackworth might want a runner instead of a target forward alongside McInerney.
If so, Le Toux makes sense for a number of reasons.
- He is a proven scorer when deployed at forward, and he certainly stretches the field.
- His contract is up at season’s end, and he will likely be available in the Re-Entry Draft.
- His market value is lower than it was a year ago, probably somewhere around $250-275,000 a year.
- He is already a Philadelphia fan favorite, and his return could help repair damage done this year by former manager Peter Nowak.
- He has personal ties to the area that extend beyond the pitch.
- He’s still just 28 years old.
The book on Le Toux is that he’s versatile enough to play forward and outside midfield. That’s true, but only to a degree. Four straight MLS coaches have found he doesn’t score much from midfield and isn’t nearly as effective in the role.
Le Toux belongs at striker, where, in 2010, he scored 14 goals in 28 games and, in 2011, once Carlos Ruiz’s departure cleared the way for Le Toux to return to striker, he netted 10 goals in 15 games to close the season. His first touch is occasionally suspect, but his runs and production at striker were indisputable for two years.
This year, Le Toux has rarely played striker. Peter Nowak’s furious rush to offload him to Vancouver put Le Toux on a team already stacked at striker, so Vancouver manager Martin Rennie deployed him primarily on a wing, sometimes in a 4-3-3, sometimes in a 4-4-2. He scored four goals in 18 games before Rennie made the ill-advised decision to replace most of his attackers midseason. Le Toux went to New York for Dane Richards, another player in the final year of his contract. It proved a poor trade for both teams. Le Toux ended up on a team with two of the league’s best strikers, Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper, so he went to right midfield, where his only goal as a Red Bull came in his first game with the team.
Now Le Toux is playing out the string, almost sure to try to leave at season’s end.
The question is whether he will get the chance. Under the Re-Entry Draft’s rules, New York has only to offer Le Toux a contract with a salary equal to the $145,000 salary he makes this year. He’s a bargain at that rate, so don’t be surprised if New York makes him that offer to retain his rights and then trades him.
If New York lets Le Toux go in the Re-Entry Draft, Philadelphia would probably have the sixth pick, based on their 2012 record. Only two players went in the draft’s first six picks last year, with other teams choosing to pass on making any selections.
Finally, Le Toux could look to Europe, but his down season and prior view toward such a move decrease that likelihood.
A Le Toux return to the Union is simply one possible scenario — and maybe not even the best. Union coaches saw Le Toux and McInerney together in practice for two years, and if they determine the two aren’t complimentary, then it’s harder to justify bringing Le Toux back. Union management could opt for a more traditional target forward to pair with McInerney. Or they could fail to find salary budget room for a quality striker. Only time will tell.
But as Hackworth seeks to undo a year’s worth of roster devastation, the old favorite has to at least be in the conversation.