WAYNE, Pa. – From the first home game of the franchise’s first season – when a skinny Frenchman scored again and again and again – one thing seemed clear: The Philadelphia Union and Sébastien Le Toux would have a perfect marriage.
The Union would give Le Toux a fresh start, 3,000 miles from where his production and playing time waned in Seattle. In return, Le Toux would give the Union a dynamic attacking player to build their team around.
For two seasons, it was a beautiful thing as Le Toux played almost every minute of every game, while accounting for much of the club’s scoring output and becoming a fan favorite, as much for his hustle and friendliness as for his goal-scoring prowess.
And then things got ugly.
On Tuesday, hours after being traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps for allocation money – a move that Union manager Peter Nowak said he made so the club could reinvest in their youngest stars – Le Toux gave a scathing interview to the Delaware County Daily Times in which the usually polite Frenchman accused the Philly front office of unceremoniously pushing him out the door. He even said he’d rather retire than play for Nowak again.
A day later, from the team’s training facility at YSC Sports, Nowak was given the opportunity to respond to Le Toux’s comments.
“Why should I?” the Union manager said. “He decided to go this route. From one spectrum, you have players leaving like Veljko [Paunović] and Faryd [Mondragón] who played with bigger teams. On the other spectrum, you have Sébastien. It’s been no secret he was a big part of the team for the last two years but you have two different approaches how to leave a club. It gives a feeling as to who you truly are.”
As expected, Nowak did not respond to any of Le Toux’s specific accusations or get dragged into a war of words with his former star player. But the whole situation was clearly on the manager’s mind. Without being prompted, he came over to the assembled media and briefly answered questions about the Frenchman’s biting parting shots.
“We all saw the article,” said Nowak, who has drawn so much ire from Union fans this week that he had to take to Twitter to plead with them to stop “sending curses” to his account. “I think these guys in the locker room feel, as a group, even stronger.
“I believe, after today, the club will still be standing straight, the PPL [Park] will still be there, the games are still going to go on and new heroes will be created over 90 minutes for 30 weeks. And I think that’s more important than personal feelings.”
Besides Le Toux, no player has been as much a part of this franchise than Danny Califf. For two seasons, the two have been the team’s anchors, Califf in the back, Le Toux in the front, Califf bulldozing opposing offensive players, Le Toux gracefully weaving around opposing defenders.
Naturally, then, everyone was eager to hear Califf’s thoughts on a fellow Union original leaving town in the fashion that he did.
“I wasn’t shocked he made those comments,” Califf said. “Any time you’re upset about something, that’s one avenue that you can take it and he decided to do it that way. I don’t think any less of Sébastien for doing that. I don’t think it’s great for our team or great for our organization. …. Hopefully he got that out of his system and he can move on and be a great teammate for those guys in Vancouver. And he can say what’s up to [ex-Union defender] Jordan Harvey for me.”
Now, in the wake of the messy divorce with Le Toux – which came on the heels of 2011 captain Faryd Mondragón’s decision to play in Colombia – Califf and the rest of the club will try to push that out of mind and prep for the upcoming season. But it might not be easy. When asked if the first week of training has been weird because of all the roster turnover, Califf was quick to respond.
“Weird,” the defender said, “would be an understatement.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.