(Published by The Philly Soccer Page on May 8, 2018)
I miss Sebastien Le Toux.
I miss the runs. The goals. The perfect crosses. The engine that never quit.
I miss the hustle. The work ethic. The way he loved not just Philadelphia, but Philadelphians, so much so that he even married one and essentially sacrificed his career path for it.
I remember when he turned his back on a trial with an English Premier League side and left early because he wanted to come back home to Philadelphia Union.
Yes, there was a player who actually did that. His name is Sebastien Le Toux.
I remember the crime of Peter Nowak dealing him to Vancouver in 2012, for what true reason, none of us know. Probably to clear salary budget space for the guys he acquired on shady deals, skimming off the transfer fees, as Michael Orozco Fiscal revealed. Who knows? Better to forget it ever happened. Maybe we will one day.
I remember when Le Toux came back. It was not just a classy move by then-Union manager John Hackworth. It was also a smart move. The Union got a steal.
Because in his time with the Union, all Le Toux ever did was produce.
Fifty MLS goals. 49 assists. Multiple positions.
People forget that sometimes.
Critics like to rip on Le Toux for his imperfect touch, for his lack of superior dribbling skills, for the streaks. Le Toux was always streaky in front of goal, hot and cold.
But when coaches deployed him right — and they seldom did, always trying to make him a right winger when he was really a striker — he was a monster.
He scored. He passed. He passed. He scored.
In his first four seasons with the Union, he netted double digits in goals or assists each year. If you played him on the wing, they were assists. If you played him at striker, where he belonged, it was goals and assists.
He played five full seasons without earning a single booking, spanning 11,781 minutes. Not a single yellow card. A true sportsman.
He wasn’t a glamorous player. In fact, he may have been the least glamorous French thing Philadelphia ever saw.
But that’s why fans love him.
He was a lunch bucket player. He wasn’t the fastest or the strongest, the most agile or the biggest.
He was smart. And he hustled. He worked hard. And he never gave up.
As they say in English soccer, he bled for the badge.
The Union badge.
He probably still does.
If not, he bleeds for the fans, which is more important anyway. The badge hasn’t always deserved it. Maybe the badge will stop trading him one day.
It was a time when professional soccer was newly returned in Philadelphia. Most didn’t remember the Philadelphia Atoms or other pro clubs that once called the city home. It was a blank slate.
The team was awful that first year, but fans had Le Toux.
When they made the playoffs in 2011, the only time they’ve ever had a winning season, it was Le Toux scoring those goals in that incredible hot streak down the stretch.
Then Nowak destroyed the team. But we’ve been through that.
They haven’t recorded a season with a winning record since then. The team doesn’t sell out games these days. Nobody talks about expanding the stadium anymore.
On June 23, the Union will induct Le Toux into a newly created Ring of Honor. It’s well-deserved. Credit to them. Maybe they’ll sell out that game. Maybe it will send a message that guys like Le Toux matter. Maybe not. Let’s not forget the Union traded him away again in 2016. Let the irony be lost on no one that the Union’s June 23 opponent is the Vancouver Whitecaps, the team Nowak dealt him to in 2012.
I think he can still play. I think they should sign him for the season. He’d be a nice change of pace option at striker. That’s another story altogether.
I rarely write about soccer from a fan perspective.
But Le Toux and Califf, they’re something else. They require a different sort of appreciation, not cold analysis, but the warmth of friendship. They were the players who shaped the Union, who shaped the club’s early culture, who led the way in creating something that looked like it was going to be special. They broke down barriers between fans and players in a way you rarely see in professional sports. Sharing beers with fans, hanging out on the side, making the area their home, and then fighting like hell to get back to this place they loved, despite every ridiculous barrier thrown in their way. They were — are — authentic, honest, and earnest. They were everything that was — that could have been, that should have been, that hopefully could be again — right about Philadelphia Union.
Maybe the Union will get that back someday. We should hope so. Alejandro Bedoya has some of that in him. So do some others. They just have to win too.
In British soccer culture, they call great players “legends,” but Le Toux and Califf weren’t legends. They were something better.
They were truth.