Season Reviews

Season review: The resurgence of Sébastien Le Toux

Photo: Paul Rudderow

It was inevitable that, with the season ending on such a down note, these season review posts would tend to look at the parts of the team that need improving. A few have found the brighter side of things, though, and this one regards perhaps the most positive development of 2014 for the Philadelphia Union: the reemergence of Sébastien Le Toux as an offensive weapon.

A brief history

Le Toux, of course, is lodged in prime position in Union lore. He scored the first goals for the Union with a first-home-game hat-trick that defeated rivals-to-be DC United. In that first season, Le Toux became a star, scoring 14 goals and assisting another 11.

The following year, he struggled for the first half of the season, though eventually caught fire late and ended up with 11 goals and nine assists. While there had been frustrations with his early-season form, it was still a dismaying shock to the fanbase when Peter Nowak ran him out of town over petty financial issues.

Two seasons A season in the wildernesses of Vancouver and New York saw Le Toux’s career stagnate, so when he was reacquired in 2013, the move was both a home run with the fans and a canny sporting decision. Le Toux began 2013 with another home-opening goal, but would score only two more, though he found his feet as the season went on, becoming one of the top assist providers in the league, with 12. But even with those assists, the spark of magic that Le Toux had brought to the Union once had not returned. Would it ever?

2014: Le Toux, take two

This season again started slow for Le Toux, like it did for the whole team. Through May, Le Toux had only three goals and two assists in 15 games, many as a sub. There were even a few games where he didn’t see the field at all, so inconsequential was he in John Hackworth’s plans at the time.

But, with the calendar’s turn to summer and Jim Curtin’s naming as interim head coach, Le Toux came alight, scoring nine goals and assisting four across 13 games. It was his offensive outburst, along with Conor Casey’s, that kept the Union afloat, fueling the team’s summertime warm-weather surge toward the playoffs.

The Union fell short in that quest, of course, and much of it can be put down to Le Toux’s cooling off. A workhorse of a player who runs more than most men ten years his junior, Le Toux suffered some niggling injuries down the stretch, and his potency waned, with just one more goal and a couple more assists over the last nine games of the season.

Don’t call it a comeback

So, what changed? Here’s a hint: it wasn’t Sébastien Le Toux.

In 2010 and ’11, Le Toux had success while playing as a lone striker. He went fallow for the Union, and struggled for Vancouver and New York, when asked to spend time farther away from goal, out wide. Ever diligent, Le Toux ran up and down the line all day, but it hamstrung his ability to influence play offensively, where he is at his best as a runner and a finisher.

Le Toux reignited when played higher up the pitch and allowed to run more centrally. The Union’s move away from a possession style to a counter-attacking one also suited him down to the ground. While he rarely played as the center man of the Union’s 4-3-3, Le Toux was given license to pinch inside from the wing, and he did so to great effect, still providing good balls for assists like in 2013, but also arriving with late runs and with the ball at his feet to finish chances or pounce on second balls.

He cooled down as a result of injury and being asked to carry too much of the offensive load. Andrew Wenger’s transformation into an attacking force opposite Le Toux on the left wing was a positive development, but couldn’t take up the slack that Le Toux and Casey had carried. The midfield’s lack of production was also problematic, making the Union—that is, Le Toux—easy to defend.

2015 and beyond

Jim Curtin is a pragmatist and a realist. He knows that Le Toux is a weapon, but only when used in the right way. He also knows that while Le Toux’s effervescence isn’t exactly on the wane, the man is 30 (31 in January) and if relied on so heavily as in the past, will continue to break down with niggly injuries, hampering his effectiveness.

The answer is to give the Frenchman some help. CJ Sapong is a step in the right direction, providing a pacy and young alternative to Casey in the middle. Wenger should continue to develop on the left side. And Curtin is right to still be looking for a bigger-name striker to bring in.

Le Toux can’t carry a team through 34 games any more. 20, maybe, but not 34. But with a little bit of help from his friends, he can form a part of a very potent attacking force. It’s good to have him back.

4 Comments

  1. Good article, Jeremy. One small correction, though. It was only one season in the wilderness of Vancouver and New York, not two.

  2. We need one more credible striking option for sure. But with Casey and Sapong already best suited to the true #9, I would hope they sign someone who is also comfortable cutting in from the wing.

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