CHESTER, Pa. — From netting a hat trick in the Philadelphia Union’s first-ever home game in 2010 to scoring the club’s first playoff goal the following year to scoring in his first game back in Philly in 2013 after spending the previous season elsewhere, Sebastien Le Toux was always a player who embraced the spotlight.
But on Tuesday afternoon, inside the stadium where his fame skyrocketed, with the public eye back on him, the Frenchman had a rare moment where he struggled to maintain his composure.
“I’m very proud to finish my career as a Union player,” Le Toux said, choking back tears, just before signing a ceremonial one-day contract with Philadelphia so he could retire as a member of the Union. “It’s very hard.”
Tuesday’s emotional retirement press conference at Talen Energy Stadium may have belied Le Toux’s on-field lethalness but was a perfect representation of the love he had for Philadelphia.
Considering he grew up in France and played for five other clubs besides the Union during his nine-year MLS career, you might not expect to see such an emotional attachment to the city. But Philadelphia is not only where he enjoyed the majority of his MLS success with 50 goals and 50 assists, it’s also where he met his wife and forged a close bond with fans, becoming equally popular with the soccer diehards and casual sports fans.
“It was not just goals and assists but in the public, in the community, he was always the last guy to stick around and sign autographs for kids, always the last guy after a team meal willing to take photos or do whatever else to really grow the game,” Union head coach and native Philadelphian Jim Curtin told MLSsoccer.com. “I think in the early stages of the Philadelphia Union franchise, he was not only the face of it on the field but also off the field. And it’s a special thing he wants to call it home.”
Le Toux may have always wanted to plant roots in Philadelphia but the Union didn’t make it easy for him. After logging 25 goals and 20 assists during his first two seasons in Philly, former Union manager Peter Nowak shipped him 3,000 miles away to Vancouver after a controversial falling out. Le Toux rejoined the Union ahead of the 2013 season, but after nearly four mostly successful seasons, the attacker was traded a second time as the club retooled its roster at the end of the 2016 summer transfer window.
Le Toux admitted the trades were difficult at the time but said it’s now “water under the bridge.” That much was made clear as he took in Union training Tuesday and shared jokes with his former teammates, some of whom ran upstairs to watch Le Toux’s retirement announcement in person.
“The biggest thing for me, and I think what Seba is known for, is he showed up when you needed him,” said goalkeeper John McCarthy, Le Toux’s teammate in 2015 and 2016. “And he was a horse. It doesn’t matter if it was the first minute or the 90th minute, or the first pass of practice or the last pass of practice, he’s the guy I always remember working hard.”
Of the 50 goals Le Toux scored as a member of the Union, some stand out more than others. After the press conference, he told MLSsoccer.com his five favorites.
|Opponent (Date)||Le Toux's recollection||Link|
|D.C. United (April 10, 2010)||“I had no idea what the Philly fan base was,” Le Toux said. “To see that was great. Lucky for me, I had this amazing start.”||WATCH|
|Houston Dynamo (Oct. 2, 2010)||“My first touch and the pass, everything was perfect,” he said. “It was very hard technically. I was like, ‘Wow, I did this one.’”||WATCH|
|Sporting KC (Sept. 30, 2015)||“Just for the atmosphere,” Le Toux said of the Open Cup final, “it was amazing.”||WATCH|
|NE Revolution (July 31, 2010)||“I liked the one I scored against Matt Reis,” he said. “It was a shot in the upper 90 from the top of the box.”||WATCH|
|Sporting KC (Mar. 2, 2013)||“I finished it in one touch,” he said. “I was happy to score in my debut back. It was a great goal to have.”||WATCH|
Indeed, in addition to the clutch goals, Le Toux may have been best known for being able to run forever without seemingly getting tired. But as he approaches 35, he admitted his “legs don’t run as fast as they used to” — a good indication it was time to hang up the boots.
Still, he plans to stay around the game and start his own private coaching clinic, while exploring other professional opportunities.
“I don’t really know what I’ll love to do because the only thing I’ve loved to do is playing soccer soccer since I was 10 years old,” he said. “But now it’s time to move on.”
For him, though, moving on means staying in Philadelphia and remaining, in some way, a part of the Union. That starts with a June 23 game vs. Vancouver when Le Toux will be inducted into the Union’s ring of honor, which technical director Chris Albright joked that the club was founding just “because of him.”
“My heart, it’s here,” Le Toux said. “It’s how I felt since my first game when I scored the hat trick. … Everything brought me back here — not just the soccer part but everything else.”