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Monday, July 7, 2014

The streak ends: Le Toux reacts to his first yellow card

The Union’s loss to Dallas Friday featured something so simultaneously commonplace and extraordinary that it almost escaped notice.

In the 68th minute of the Union’s 2-1 loss in Texas, referee Edvin Jurisevic brandished a yellow card in the direction of Union forward Sebastien Le Toux. The reasoning, supposedly for repeated protests, made it hardly exceptional in a league where refereeing is improving but remains perplexing at times. The decision also wasn’t a shock within the context of Jurisevic’s struggles to keep up with the pace and tone of physicality in the game.

Sebastien Le Toux picked up his first MLS
yellow card Friday ... in his 170th match.
(Times File)
What made this otherwise mundane decision so remarkable wasn’t the ref but the player: The yellow card was Le Toux’s first in MLS play. That’s his first card of any color in his MLS career.

Just a few numbers to illustrate how astounding that point is: Le Toux’s MLS career started in 2009 with Seattle, in a 15-team league; 21 teams will start the next MLS season. Le Toux’s card came in his 170th MLS game, a career spent with four clubs. Le Toux’s streak of good behavior stretched back to a time when the Union didn’t yet exist.

He had played over 12,700 card-less minutes in his career. (For comparison’s sake, Fabinho this season has averaged a yellow card every 197 minutes, while Corben Bone is averaging a shade under seven reds and seven yellows per game this season.)

It’s a run that Le Toux admitted Monday to keeping tabs on and one he was a bit surprised to see end.

“I knew I had never gotten a card in MLS, but I was not expecting to get one the last game,” he said. “I was surprised he gave me one because I didn’t do anything. I think maybe (Jurisevic) wanted to put that on his résumé that he was the first one to give me a yellow card in the league, but I don’t know.”

Le Toux was in a joking mood Monday about the booking, which he said Jurisevic showed him for constant protests of his calls. (Le Toux preferred the phrasing of, “I had to tell him every time that he was making mistakes,” as is the Frenchmen’s usual humor.)

While a point of pride, the streak is not as much about numbers or statistics for Le Toux as it is his mentality and approach. No one will ever accuse Le Toux – the Union’s all-time leader in goals (34) and assists (34) – of being a defensive bulldog. But he’s also not a defensive liability, and saying that he keeps his name out of the book because he never plays defense wouldn’t be accurate. What’s more obvious is that Le Toux, a consummate professional, has the respect for the game and level-headedness that allows him to avoid the excessive celebrations or the cynical, off-the-ball shenanigans that can ensnarl so many players, especially frustrated forwards who might want to tussle with defenders behind the play.

As with anything else in Le Toux’s game, it’s a healthy balance: Of physicality and skill, of effort and restraint in knowing when a tackle simply isn’t there … even of a little luck not to go in the book anywhere along the way.

“I just try to be fair when I play, and I’m lucky that I’ve never gotten a yellow card,” he said. “I’m not a dirty player. I’m never going to give an elbow or something stupid knowing that I’m going to foul the ball. I always try for the ball the best I can and in the rules. …

“I never go to a ball knowing that I’m not going to get it. If I go or it, I always get it and sometimes I foul, but it’s not a dirty foul. It’s a foul that the guy maybe is faster and I just get him, but not badly, with my cleats or with the elbow. I think maybe the ref knows that since I’ve played in the league and they know that I don’t play badly.”

His MLS streak is not to say that Le Toux is a total angel. His last yellow card came in May 2012 in the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final while he was with Vancouver. That day, he received two yellow cards, getting the gate as Le Toux’s Whitecaps fell to Toronto FC. The second of those was quite weak, Le Toux apparently being penalized for allowing Julian de Guzman to throw him to the ground in a scuffle. (Video of the fracas starts around the 2:30 mark here.)

The end of the streak is unlikely to change much for Le Toux. Although it could…

“People were tweeting me that I’m a badass now because I got my first yellow,” Le Toux said. “I guess I am. I might get another one this week, you never know. Maybe two in a row. It would be crazy.”

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