COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – With their deadline trade for longtime Philadelphia Union forward Sebastien Le Toux, the Colorado Rapids hope to have found their answer in boosting an offense which has been the team’s biggest question mark this season.
“He’s got that attacking mentality that always sniff goals,” Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni said of the team’s latest addition. “He threatens defenses and the spaces in behind, which is something we’ve been trying to focus on this year.”
Colorado has been the best defensive team in MLS through 21 games with only 19 goals conceded. But offensively, the Rapids have tallied only 24 goals in that timeframe, tied for third worst in the Western Conference.
“I think it gives us a little bit more balance,” explained Rapids technical director and VP of soccer ops Paul Bravo, who engineered the move for Le Toux. “Sebastien is a player that loves to get forward and takes chances. He looks for balls in behind, which is something we’ve lacked this year. With his ability to stretch the field I think he’ll take some of the pressure off of our defensive group.”
Having produced 56 goals and 55 assists in 236 appearances (191 starts), the 32-year-old looks primed for the task.
“It’s a good trade for me and I’m very happy to be here. They have the expectations of a first-place team and I’m hoping to be a part of that,” Le Toux said. “I think I’m a team player and I’ve proved throughout my career that I can score goals and make assists. I can attack and defend; I’m not lazy. If I need to play different positions, I will.”
While he’s no stranger to his own movement within the league, Colorado marks Le Toux’s fifth different club over nine seasons in MLS, this trade was an emotional one for the Frenchman. He embraced Philadelphia as his home, gaining the respect of coaches and fans alike during his time there.
“It’s a bit sad at first,” Le Toux explained. “I’ve played twice there and for six years. I grew with the fan base over there. It’s a great city and I will always come back. It’s my second hometown outside of France probably. I know I will always be welcome in Philadelphia.”
Union head coach Jim Curtin called the move “hard” and one that “seems cruel”. But with Philadelphia’s need to make room for the imminent move of Alejandro Bedoya, Colorado saw an opening to strengthen their squad.
“We were trying to figure out what would help us get better and an opportunity presented itself,” Rapids technical director and VP of soccer ops Paul Bravo explained. “We needed to add some more depth on the wings and Sebastien’s experience in this league and his goalscoring record, we liked that sort of production. He scores a goal or adds an assist in just about every other game.”
In the process, the Rapids had to make some difficult decisions of their own, sending Argentine striker Luis Solignac to Chicago after 18 months in Colorado.
“Sigi [Schmid] said to me that when moving anyone becomes easy, this job isn’t for you,” Mastroeni said. “Lucho has been a consummate pro and has grown alongside the rest of us. It’s losing a really good friend who’s shared in some difficult experiences over the last year.”
But in contrast to Solignac, who showed discomfort at times outside of his preferred No. 9 role, Le Toux brings a level of comfort at each of the front four positions in the Rapids’ base 4-2-3-1; a quality which Mastroeni has been looking for.
“I spoke with Pablo and he’s very confident in me,” Le Toux said. “In Colorado they play the same style so I can be used in a few positions. Right now I’ll probably play as a winger on the right or on the left. I think the most important thing is to work well with my teammates and make sure I’m ready to play with this team.
But with lingering back pain entering this Saturday’s match against Vancouver, Le Toux isn’t quite ready to make his Rapids debut. Additionally, it will inevitably take some time for him to adjust to the climate and altitude in Colorado.
“It’s always hard with the altitude, so I have to make sure I’m ready to run 90 minutes in this atmosphere,” Le Toux said.
Even with the short waiting period ahead, the trade is a “win now” move for the Rapids, with both Le Toux and Mastroeni’s contracts reportedly expiring at the conclusion of the season.
“We have 13 more games,” said Bravo. “We’re not in the playoffs by any stretch of the imagination. We have a lot of work to do. This is getting more experience into the building and giving us that added punch that we think will get us where we want to be and that’s fighting for a trophy at the end of the year.”