CHESTER, Pa. – As Friday’s press conference to reintroduce Sébastien Le Toux was wrapping up, Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said that it was the club’s intention to keep the French striker in Philly for the foreseeable future.
Without missing a beat, Le Toux leaned in close to the microphone and added just one word:
Leaving once was hard enough for a player who was the heart and soul of the Union during the franchise’s first two seasons of existence, before he was unceremoniously shuttled out of town by former manager Peter Nowak.
Now that he’s back with the Union after Thursday’s trade with the New York Red Bulls, he never wants to leave again.
“I told [the Red Bulls] the only team I was willing to play for was Philadelphia,” Le Toux told reporters from the PPL Park podium. “I hope to stay here forever because it’s the club I love to play for. I’m very, very happy. There’s no other way to describe it.”
While ecstatic to be back in Philly, Le Toux admitted he was surprised the reunion came to fruition, in part because of how messy the initial divorce was. When Le Toux was traded to Vancouver in January, he blasted Nowak for being dishonest and manipulative, going as far to say he’d rather retire than play for the Polish manager again.
But when Nowak was fired 11 games into the 2012 season, bringing Le Toux back to Philly suddenly seemed like a possibility. And as the Union struggled to find the back the net throughout the year, reacquiring a player like Le Toux, who scored 25 goals for the Union from 2010-11, became more than just a hypothetical. Suddenly he filled a legitimate need.
“In maybe August and September, we started saying about how we missed Sébastien as a player,” Sakiewicz said. “I would say from the beginning, we missed Sébastien as a person because he’s very unique in a great way. His work in the community, his work with our fans, his connectivity on the field with the community – we missed that from day one.”
The impact Le Toux had on the franchise was not lost on manager John Hackworth, who said fans were “begging me and pleading [with] me” to bring back the Frenchman, who with his hustle and hard work came to embody the city’s blue-collar spirit.
And Hackworth – who last year was given the unenviable task of calling Le Toux to tell him he was being traded, which he said was “not one of my happier days as a Union employee” – realized an offseason move could work out once Le Toux was dealt from Vancouver to the Red Bulls in July.
“If I’m being really honest, when he got traded to New York, my sense was that was a very short-term move for New York and they were doing that to try to get their team in position make a run at the championship,” the Union manager said. “It didn’t look like a long-term move to me and that’s when we started thinking in the back of my head that this was a possibility.”
With both Le Toux and the Union wanting to make it happen – and former Union player Stefani Miglioranzi pulling the strings as Le Toux’s agent – the trade was completed Thursday with Philly sending New York allocation money and Costa Rican striker Josué Martínez in exchange for the French striker.
And now, after struggling without each other in 2012, both the Union and Le Toux hope they’ll be able to recapture a little more magic now that they’re together again.
Said Le Toux: “I think it was meant to be here.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.