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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tactical implications of Sebastien Le Toux's return

The Union’s event Friday provided all the warm and fuzzy feelings you’d expect from a reunion of this type around the holidays. But stripped of its pomp and ceremony, the Union’s move to reacquire all-time leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux makes sense on the pitch as well.

Le Toux will be 29 when he takes the field for the Union’s opener next season, certainly qualifying as a veteran. But as Le Toux pointed out in the face of questions referring to him as a “mentor” and a “veteran”, “I’m not old.” Just two years ago, he was an all-star and considered to be an elite striker in MLS.

Indeed, it would appear that there is plenty of football left in Le Toux’s boots, and he presents and intriguing fit for this otherwise young Union squad. So often last season, manager John Hackworth’s formation oscillated somewhere between a 4-3-3 and a 4-5-1. Depending on who you ask, the likes of Freddy Adu, Michael Farfan and Gabriel Gomez were at various times referred to as “forwards”; Le Toux is of a completely different ilk in what he brings to the table. It allows Hackworth to adopt a more tradition 4-4-2, which seems to be more to his liking.

The particulars are unclear for now. Hackworth is certain that Le Toux will be used as a forward, not the midfield role that he often fell into last year in his various stops.

In Jack McInerney, who matured greatly last year en route to eight MLS goals, Le Toux has an ideal strike partner. While Le Toux brings much more to the table that just a traditional center forward’s ability to hold up play and be a target man, he also has that ability, allowing someone like McInerney or the speedy Antione Hoppenot to run off of.

“He’s a very young player. I think all the things he did this year made him stronger and I’m very happy for his success,” Le Toux said of McInerney. “… I’m looking forward to playing with him because I’m sure he’s very hungry to do well, and it’s what the team needs to be successful.”

“We know that Jack and Sebastien have already played together for two years,” Hackworth said. “They’ve already developed that rapport. I think Jack has developed separately, and if there was one lesson in that whole thing is that Jack got to become our main goalscorer last year. But now I think we have the opportunity to really take this team forward. … Knowing Sebastien like I do, I feel confident that we can fit him into a system that complements the guys we already have.”

Whoever it turns out that Le Toux is paired with, his ability to stretch the field vertically with his speed and superior vision will be an instant addition, a commodity the Union tried in vain to find last season (cough, Jorge Perlaza, cough). It’s something Hackworth and CEO Nick Sakiewicz each pointed to as one of the glaring voids left by his departure.

Perhaps more so than the tactical implications, it’s fair to see this move as the franchise stepping even further away from the past regime. The gratitude expressed by Sakiewicz toward Hackworth and assistant coach Rob Vartughian in the “collaborative” move to get Le Toux illustrated how the process by which personnel moves are made “feels much more like a team.” The fact that the subject of the move is Le Toux, someone who vowed never to play for the Union under again as long as Peter Nowak was in charge, only underscores the point. (Incidentally, the ability of Le Toux et al. to reference Nowak without referencing his name in the press conference was fun to watch.)

“I’m just very excited. I just know that it’s a different mentality, it’s a different coaching staff and a different approach to the game I’m sure,” Le Toux said. “I know John a little bit. We worked together, but he did not lots of, I would say maybe, power of what he was trying to do here when he was an assistant. I know that, and I respect John for that because he always looked out for the team.”

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Thursday, December 6, 2012


(Times file)
The Union underwent a little course correction Thursday, when they traded with New York to acquire the guy they never should have traded away in January.

It took stopovers in Vancouver and New York, but Sebastien Le Toux is back in Philly. The Union sent Josue Martinez and allocation money to the Red Bulls in exchange for Le Toux, the club's all-time leading scorer.

Le Toux never wanted to leave the Union. He was on the wrong side of contract negotiations, with ex-Union coach Peter Nowak convincing the shot-callers in the front office to invest in cheaper, yet riskier options at striker before meeting Le Toux's contract demands. So the Union sent Le Toux to Vancouver, and Le Toux told the Daily Times hours after the January trade went official, that he would never again play for Nowak, a man for whom he had such little respect that he refused to shake his hand when the Whitecaps played the Union.

It appears he won't have to, with Union manager John Hackworth and CEO Nick Sakiewicz pulling the strings to bring back Le Toux.

Le Toux told me in July, after his trade from Vancouver to New York, that he hadn't ruled out the notion of playing for the Union in 2013. After all, he would be out of contract by then, and to a degree would have the cards in his hands. (I'm still trying to figure out some of the details of Le Toux's new contract. If I find them, I'll pass them along.)

The Union's vision at the time of the trade of Le Toux was simplistic: Bring in less-expensive options at striker in place of the 28-year-old with 25 goals in two seasons for the Union. It didn't work. They went from a playoff team to a doddering non-contender. Guys like Martinez, Gabriel Gomez and Lio Pajoy are gone. And back is the constant -- Le Toux.

Le Toux and the Union will hold a 10 a.m. press conference Friday. It's a presser that, to Union fans, will probably feel long overdue.

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