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“Peter Nowak doesn’t really want me in his team” — Le Toux

Photo: Paul Rudderow

 “You just ripped the heart out of your squad. And your fan base.” 

Martin Longman, Union fan, on the Union web site

“Horrible day, horrible decision. All the guy did was give his heart, soul and sweat to this team for two years and this is how you repay him. Good luck Seba, I hope you have a career season this year and show these fools what they’ve given up.”

Dan Coleman, Union fan, on the Union web site

““I wanted to stay in Philly. I didn’t care about the money.”

— Sebastien Le Toux, to the Delaware County Times in a must-read interview

This should have been unthinkable.

This should have been where common sense kicked in.

It should have been where the regard for Philadelphia Union fans and players kicked in.

But it didn’t. After all, Peter Nowak was involved.

“Feelings are not really included in my job description,” the Union manager said today during a press conference.

So Sebastien Le Toux is gone.

Sport is a business, as we all know. Union fans and players saw that play out during the Michael Orozco-Fiscal fiasco last year. And we knew, to a degree, that could impact the Le Toux situation. I even wrote about it last week in a post titled “Buy low, sell high: The Sebastien Le Toux story“, in which I explained the merits of a Le Toux sale. But we all thought it was Bolton and the dream of top-flight European soccer.

Little did we know.

Union fans are furious, and rightly so. A Le Toux move to Bolton was one thing: A chance for a player to ascend to a higher level after giving so much to fans for two years. People understood the business side, but it’s clear most felt the move was only justifiable if Le Toux wanted to go. Le Toux went on trial but left Bolton early, choosing to stay in Philadelphia.

Instead, he’s off to Vancouver of all places, sold for an undisclosed fee kept secret due to a dubious league policy, obscuring the deal’s true value. Don’t buy the spin that Le Toux’s sale financed the Roger Torres transfer. It might be more accurate to say it financed the acquisition of Le Toux’s replacement, Josue Martinez (and possibly Lionard Pajoy), filling the budget hole the Martinez purchase left. Le Toux was never meant to return.

Le Toux: “Peter Nowak doesn’t really want me in his team”

Nowak rightly points out the need to avoid losing Le Toux on free transfer after Le Toux’s contract expires in December. MLS has had that happen too often, with players like Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Jonathan Bornstein and others moving abroad for no transfer fees. The Union needed to get something for him or keep him.

But was it really all that implausible that the Union could resign him? Le Toux makes $179,000 a year. The Designated Player rule would have allowed the Union to resign him, and with the league picking up the first $335,000 of the approximately $400,000 salary Le Toux proposed, the Union would theoretically pay just $65,000 of Le Toux’s salary.

Le Toux said Nowak simply didn’t want him on the team, and when Le Toux learned of the trade, it hit him hard.

“I was sad in the beginning,” Le Toux told Whitecaps FC Daily, a radio show on 1410 AM in Vancouver.* “I got two good years here. But after the fact that, you know, the coach of Philadelphia, Peter Nowak, doesn’t really want me in his team, and the Whitecaps, you know, want me more and really believe in me and want me — want me there — is great.”

the same way most people did: He read it on Twitter. “A lot of people were talking and just asking questions that I have no clue (about). So I just found out this morning when I was on my way to practice.”

The person to tell him wasn’t his manager. Nowak’s No. 2 man picked up the dirty work, as usual. “Coach John Hackworth just called me in, told me that, you know, I was traded to Vancouver,” Le Toux said.

(*Ed. note: Le Toux’s radio interview begins at the 30-minute mark.) 

Le Toux’s value to fans

Philadelphia’s a tough town. Its fans are notoriously brutal. And Le Toux is French. Americans love to hate the French.

Le Toux took Philadelphia like perhaps no other athlete in recent history. He was the face, engine, heart and soul of the Union. He was responsible for most of the goals, and he is almost universally loved by Union fans. In just two years, he became the Union’s version of Rocky, a guy who achieved far beyond his natural talents due to hard work, hustle, and never giving up. He symbolized everything Philadelphia fans wanted a team to be, in any sport. If he wasn’t a Philly sports icon yet, he was well on his way.

For a two-year-old franchise trying to crack into a saturated pro sports market, that matters. The new car smell doesn’t last forever. A club needs popular players fans can relate to and, quite frankly, love the way they love Le Toux. They also need players who love this area back the way Le Toux does.

Sure, some fans root for the team and say they will follow the team regardless of who wears the jersey. But is that all spectator sports are, simply rooting for a shirt? Or do you care about who’s actually wearing it? Do you celebrate with the shirt, or do you celebrate with the player? Is the player just an automaton who maneuvers the uniform across a pitch for your enjoyment, or is he a human being?

In MLS, where guys like Sheanon Williams and Kyle Nakazawa barely make enough money to raise a family if they choose to, fans build ties with players like in no other sport — or at least they do in Philadelphia. There’s a connection between Union players and fans that is rare and organic, spawned by creative, passionate outreach by the Sons of Ben and other fans and the presence of good, personable guys on the team. Le Toux was known for staying late after games to sign autographs and generally being an eminently approachable, normal, nice guy who played his heart out every game, whether he was marginalized positionally by the misguided Carlos Ruiz signing or scoring goals by the boatload.

Now Nowak has callously discarded him like trash tossed to the curb, without even the decency to man up and tell him face to face. (Sounds a lot like how Danny Califf learned he lost the captain’s armband, doesn’t it?) It’s an insult of massive proportions both to Union fans and players.

Yes, that’s how big-time professional sports sometimes work, but MLS isn’t big-time yet. Around the league, clubs like Seattle and Portland have shown it’s not only possible but also a successful business practice to be open and respectful to your fans and players while still recognizing that, yes, sometimes players need to move on. On the flip side, clubs like Toronto FC have shown that, even if you have a waiting list for season tickets, you can still find yourself with empty seats once the new car smell wears off and the fans decide they hate management more than they love the players.

Nowak may say he’s building a Union roster for the future. Union management should ask themselves whether it’s worth the good will he’s destroying in the process.

 

NOTE: If you haven’t read Le Toux’s interview with the Delco Times’ Chris Vito, then you should. It’s an absolute must-read.

34 Comments

  1. Everyone knows I didn’t mind the trade but reading how it all went down is beyond brutal. Nowak always came off as brash but I couldn’t see him treating his star player like that.
    It’s one thing to want to trade him, but it’s another to hold a vendetta against a player for requesting a raise and getting everyone in the FO to take part.
    The way it sounded like it went down really tarnishes not only Nowak’s reputation, but the Unions as well (@BrotherlyGame said they were prepared to sell Williams (!!!) too after contract talk broke down).
    Thank god for the organization that soccer is a backwater sport – could you imagine the constant scrutiny if the mainstream outlets like WIP talked about soccer? Nowak would get it worse than Reid right now.

    • If what ur saying about Sheanon is true id give up both my tickets on the spot

      • Here are the tweets:

        @brotherlygame Brotherly Game
        I’ve also been told that contract negotiations with Sheanon Williams, at one point, had stalled enough where they were prepping to sell him.

        @brotherlygame Brotherly Game
        As it stands now, there’s no way that happens, especially when Nowak has come out and basically said that Williams will get a new contract.

      • When were those tweets from?

    • Le Toux’s story sounds believable. It fits a pattern. And it’s absolutely remarkable. This is a PR nightmare for the Union. But I bet you Bobby Convey could have predicted this two years ago.

    • Bye Bye Nowak says:

      Nowak is an arrogant, aloof, sob. No way the Union makes the playoffs this season. The sooner they fire him, the sooner this 2nd year team can begin rebuilding. He already blamed the fans for the departure of El Pescadito.

  2. If what Le Toux said actually went down I can’t express my anger towards Novak. A class act Le Toux was through and through. Union won many a game last year in spite of Novak because of guys like Le Toux. Before everyond gets excited about next year lets just remember our coach is the same guy who only let Amobi play the first 45 multiple games last year regardless if how well he was playing. First time in my life i have been angered and embarrassed to be a aeason ticket holder. Reminds me of the way Dan Gilbert treated LeBron towards the end, not the best way to attract players

  3. At first I was going to come on here and try to defend Nowak and the Union, but then I read the Delco Times article, and I want to say that even if a shred of that information is true, we have a big problem here. Nowak has had problems with many players before, and this is seeming to be more of a problem with Nowak than with the other players. But if this article is actually true I think that the fans need to begin to call for Nowak’s head. That is not an exceptable way to treat a player that wants to be here.
    I do also want to say though that I can see where this trade is beneficial to the team. We cannot forget that Le Toux was silient till the end of the season when it came to scoring, and many of those goal were on PK’s. His hard work will be missed, but it is an opportunity for some of young players to finally get a chance to shine. Also Nowak and Union Management have done a fine job of getting the right players to Philly so far, so I have to believe they know what they are doing. All in all I just really hope this is what is best for the Union in the long run. We will know more this time next year.

    • Getting players here is going to be meaningless if this is how they will be treated. They will either want to leave or not come in the first place.

      This is a huge PR blow not just with the fans, but I’m sure with the players as well. Who wants to play for a guy who is going to jettison you when you’ve earned a salary increase, but won’t even have the balls to say it to your face?

  4. Fire Nowak. Now. Or this season ticket holder is gone.

    • won’t make a damn bit of difference this is a top down culture thing. Nowak is a company man and the company had no problem with any of this.

    • The worst part for Nowak is that people were questioning his coaching ability long before this happened. If we go into next season and we see the musical chairs of lineups and random formation changes again … he might not make it to the end of the year.

  5. Michael Orozco Fiscal wanted to be here, too.

    “Obviously, I want to be back and I’ve given my word to the coach, to our team. I want to stay here permanently. I want to be here. I want to be part of Philadelphia.”

    We all remember how that went.

  6. How loud will the boos be for Nowak when he’s announced during the home opener? I’m going to rest my voice for weeks before hand in preparation.

    • This one really sticks in the craw. I for one can’t get it out of my head. The only thing that will right this ship is winning. If we can’t match or exceed last season’s record and performance, what rationale can there possibly be for keeping Nowak on board? None, from a soccer perspective. I’m sure the owners will think of business ones…

  7. Well that’s fantastic. Here I am, trying in vain to justify this trade in my head, and I read this interview. While of course there are two sides to every story, if Seba’s account is true, this continues what has become appalling trend with coach Nowak: a combination of questionable coaching decisions and some frankly jerkish behavior. Let’s count them all down (I’m not going to count the falling out w/ Bobby Convey, only Union related matters) 1. The Orozco Fiscal Fiasco, 2. Bizarre, ineffectual starting lineups, bringing us to..3. Half-time substitutions in far too many games, 4. Shamefully blaming the fans/media for Carlos Ruiz’s departure, 5. Not taking the final game of the regular season against NYRB seriously, 6. If its all true, kicking Mr. Union Sebastien Le Toux to the curb. My take? I’m not going to call for his head just yet, but if we have another year of “guess the formation” lineups and don’t win a trophy, I will.

  8. And we trade Nakazawa to LA. In a wild, wild, WILD week can we all agree that it’s one trade that no one has an issue with? He dropped down far on the depth chart.

  9. If all of this is true, then Nowak needs to go.

  10. Delco times article=mind blown!!! Just amazing!!!

  11. okay I just read the articles. My take is Nowak is pissed at LeToux not going over to Bolton and getting signed0 Sounds like he didn’t want to go in the first place but went to appease the front office. He gets over there, realizes it isn’t for him, injures himself, decides to come home.

    Nowak is fuming at this point because (as Nowak sees it) LeToux just cost the Union 1 million in transfer fees. The plan all along was to get the transfer money from the EPL.

    LeToux inadvertently blows up Nowak’s “master plan” and ends up trading him to show #9 who’s boss.

    Nowak is an asshole. All this kid did was play his heart out for your team and this is the way you treat him (and the fans)?

    Fuck Nowak….he’s an asshole.

    • Yeah, I think this is basically what happened. When the Bolton possibility came up, Nowak saw dollar signs. When it fell through because–go figure–our best player would rather stay with us then go play in the EPL(!)(Which is something to capitalize on, mind you, not throw away.), he decided to throw all his toys out of the pram and get them dollars another way, and give an old ‘fuck you, too, Sebastien,’ on the way.

      • Yep, this appears to be it.

        What’s most amazing in all this is Le Toux wanted to stay. We had a photographer at the gathering at Kildare’s in West Chester last night. Le Toux apparently stayed late to talk to ANYONE who wanted to chat. I’m told there were tears. I’m looking forward to seeing Earl’s photos later today.

      • If I didn’t have to work today and could’ve stayed later, I would’ve stayed late too. To hear of Seba’s trade was tough enough to take, this just pours salt in the wound. Running a team and building a franchise for the future, but as was mentioned, the guy stood out as the face and lifeblood of the franchise, which was something that was needed amongs the other teams in the city. Now, what do we have?

  12. At first and for all the obvious reasons this move felt wrong to me from the start, even when it was to Bolton. However, like many I accepted it and was happy that he might have a shot at something greater.
    I had no idea it was anything like this, and now I’m beginning to wonder if loyalty in any form exists in this management team. I suspect not much, and I wonder if some the other recent departures share a common thread with this story.

    Me and Lisa drove the hour from Jersey to Kildares in West Chester to pay our respects and say goodbye. I was ok, that is until right after Corey’s speech and LeToux stepped to the mic. He didn’t say anything negative, but when his voice broke…it hurt. Just then all the internet analysis and bloggery faded away and we were left understanding that this real man was pretty much slapped in the face by our team.

    I was angry when I heard yesterday morning and wounded when I heard the tearful voice of a man who played his heart out for us only to be discarded for allocation money. And now this…so while I would never say the team is doomed, I will say there is definitely a crisis of the heart out there. Philadelphia likes heart, this fan base thrives on it.

    Goodbye LeToux and Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  13. Bad move. I’m a Sounder, but Seb was always the connection to the fans and a consummate fan favorite, even if his performance was less than stellar while he was here. Truthfully, they never gave him a chance because they were too busy trying to cash in on a premiere league burnout they dropped 1.5 mil on. Sorry for your loss philly. He gave you guys the performance he was never given the chance to here and he’s probably the nicest guy in the league.

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  15. This whole story smells like a team in desperate need of cash.
    The front office and Nowak obviously don’t care about their fan base.
    I’ m an EPL fan and was starting to look the Union’s way but who wants to follow a team that doesn’t care about their fans.

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