Featured / Local

Le Toux Brutus?

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

For some time, there has been a lot of talk among Philadelphia Union fans about Sebastian Le Toux’s performance in 2011. Compared to his outstanding league MVP-worthy 2010 season—14 goals, 11 assists, 90 shots, 48 shots on goal over 28 starts—some argue that the forward is in the middle of a massive slump and has not demonstrated the he is deserving of the 19 starts and more than 1700 minutes of game time he has so far received. The calls for Danny Mwanga or even Jack McInerney to replace the 2010 team MVP as a starter continue.

However, while the goals may not be there on the stat sheet—only one from 19 games (and that from a penalty kick) with 45 shots and only 12 on goal—the importance of Le Toux’s place on the field must be measured by more than how many times he puts the ball in the back of the net.

Currently the Union are using a 4-1-3-2 formation. They use this formation to allow Brian Carroll to hold the midfield as a fifth defender which then frees up the backs to be more aggressive in attacking down the side of the field. Wing play for the Union has been picking up as the season goes on, and in watching their last few games it has become clear that they want to shut down the middle of the field and control the ball with sideline attacks.

Now, how does this affect Le Toux?

Le Toux has played several positions on the field during the year. He has been paired up front with Carlos Ruiz, he has played on the wing, and he has occupied the attacking midfield role. In this writer’s opinion, Le Toux would be best suited in the attacking midfield role, allowing him to drop back and use his creativity with the ball to set up any number of players down the middle or streaking down the sideline.

However, that is not really in the cards for Le Toux—who has said himself he prefers to play as a forward—mainly because the Union have a plethora of midfield options. Though no one will ever know for sure how Peter Novak makes his lineup decisions, with Ruiz, Mwanga, and McInerney being the club’s true forwards, it might be safe to assume that Le Toux is primarily platooned up front with a true striker because there are that many other midfield player options to fill out the starting XI.

Le Toux deserves to be there, he is a creator on the field. In 19 league matches, the Union as a team have 21 total assists. Le Toux takes credit for 7 of those.

And when he’s not assisting goals, Le Toux is creating chaos and unease among the opposition’s back line, constantly harrying defenders and chasing down backpasses to unsettle the goalkeeper.

The “participating factor”

When Le Toux is not directly responsible for the latest goal being scored, he often is a participating factor in the play. A good example of this comes from the 2-2 draw at DC United. This was a game that the Union should have won rather easily despite being on the road. However most of the game was spent chasing United players around the field and accomplishing little on offense.

For over 80 minutes of the game, the Union trailed and their only point on the board came via own goal by Perry Kitchen. With under ten minutes to play in the match, now getting desperate to salvage a point on the road, Le Toux found Sheanon Williams down the sideline with a long pass. Williams settled the pass and found Ruiz in the six-yard box who put away the equalizer.

To throw out more numbers

Le Toux is one of four players in the league who has hit the post three times this season. Le Toux’s seven assists on the year puts him two off from the league lead of nine, and only one behind David Beckham, who is something like the Steve Nash of Los Angeles.

For the Union, Le Toux’s seven assists are more than Mapp, Nakazawa, Carroll, and Daniel combined (yes I know that playing time can alter all of this and that stats can be made to say anything, but I will still argue that that is not the case here). Le Toux has assisted on three of the five goals scored by Mwanga on the season and he also leads the team in shots attempted and is third in shots on goal. Le Toux and Williams are also the only players to start and play in all 19 games this year.

Let the man play

So, for the naysayers out there who want Le Toux to come out of the lineup, or those who insist that he is playing in a slump, take a look at the overall picture. He may not have a lot of goals to his name at the halfway mark of the season, but he is still the team’s most aggressive force. In baseball when a power hitter is not hitting a lot of homeruns, the solution is not to take him out of the lineup—all that hitter can do is keep hitting the ball around the field and the power will eventually return.

In Le Toux’s case, he is a leader on the field, he is a setup man for all of the players around him. If he doesn’t directly assist on a goal, chances are that he put his cleat on the ball at some point before it got to the back of the net. A Union lineup that does not feature Le Toux on the field, even if that means pairing him up front just to have him out there, would be a lineup that lacks offensive direction and goal scoring creativity.

9 Comments

  1. I would be more willing to let Le Toux play if we didn’t have Ruiz. Despite his recent form, Ruiz is still a lazy poacher and does not offer enough in the way of building attacks that a young, dynamic midfield need. If the only thing Le Toux is giving us are these intangible “what ifs”than I feel like we aren’t getting enough from our forwards.

    Since we are stuck with Ruiz, I would still love to see Le Toux sit, mostly at this point just to see if Nowak has it in him (Nowak has no problem sitting players who play well the previous game, it seems). Start Mwanga for once.

    And honestly, I am still interested in seeing a Mwanga-Jack partnership start in a league game. Jack looked good in his starts in the MLS, and I thought he played a strong, mature game against Everton. He seemed willing to body up to his man and lay off the ball.

    It’s weird – Nowak seems to have two opposite philosophies for his midfield and strikers. For midfield, he has no problem mixing and matching each week, usually sitting players who had good games the previous week in the process. But when it comes to strikers, he seems too willing to stubbornly play Le Toux out of his slump. And Ruiz – I am still disappointed we signed him. His play style does not mesh with us at all and he has taken valuable minutes away from Mwanga and Jack.

    • It would also be totally different if we had skilled midfielders from the beginning… the best match they all had was in a friendly (Real Madrid) where they made very little mistakes once they got in the groove. They have no long ball, they don’t cross the field whatsoever, and their passes are always generally behind the player’s movement (where they were standing, no lead out whatsoever). So having ruiz would work..if… we could pass. Otherwise, he’ll make up with the gaps in the box when it gets cluttered, instead of just stabbing at the ball hoping it goes in (ala Moreno)

    • Jim, I think you’re right about the constant changes to the midfield and that the coaches might not always put the best lineup out there from our perspective. Ruiz does have a habit of being in the right place at the right time when balls are played into the box and that’s why he has the 6 goals to his credit (but I do see him a lot of the time waiting for things to come his way rather than being a creator). I think the most interesting partnership though, would be Le Toux and Mwanga up front. Simply because they were playing strong together at the end of last season, and when Mwanga gets on the field this season we see good things happening with the two of them.

      This was my first contribution to the site, so I do appreciate the read and thanks a lot for the comments!

  2. Le Toux is in a slump, but he is still the best all-around player on the team. Pulling him should never come to mind.

    • Yea, he’s in a slump with goals. He has the most shots of the team which is ridiculous with not having any goals. But he makes up largely in assists. He doesn’t need to be pulled, but I will throw something at him if he takes another corner kick.

      • ditto with free kicks. Nakazawa needs to pull a “Seba, look over there!” distraction before taking them. Le Toux was awful at set pieces in his magical 2010 season too. I think we scored on only one of his first 45 corner kicks (I vaguely remember looking up that stat from last year, it could have a decent margin of error)

  3. I’m mostly in agreement with you, but is there really all that many people clamoring for him to be out of the usual starters? I’d say it’s roughly the same proportion of people who used to think A.J. Feeley should start for the Eagles over Donovan McNabb.

    Now, the number of people who think it might be ok if Le Toux were to begin a game on the bench, then come into the game later looking to prove himself, may be reasonable, but so is that concept. To use your example of the power hitter in baseball, it is entirely common (and IMO correct) to give a highly-valued, slumping hitter a day off to get away from failure for a minute.

    That said, I don’t think Le Toux should be benched just yet, because I don’t see the frustration he had earlier in the season when he was trying to carry the team. I think he understands now how useful he is in those ‘intangibles’.

    • I agree with your thought on the baseball example that I used, and perhaps maybe a day off would be warranted. But, I still stand firm on his importance on the field for the team. I think even if he were given a game to come in as a sub, it may not have a positive outcome for the team, especially if they end up playing from behind because of it. Also, couldn’t agree more about the free kicks.

  4. Pingback: To LeToux or not to LeToux? | Test Site

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