[UNDER THE MICROSCOPE] His 13th goal of the season against Houston on Saturday -- combined with 10 assists -- gives Sebastien Le Toux the distinction of participating in 23 of the Philadelphia Union's 32 goals this season. That goal also rates as one of the finest in MLS in 2010 and adds a bit more substance to his inclusion among the serious candidates as league MVP.
Union coach Peter Nowak knew he'd be looking at lot of players during Philly’s debut campaign. He’s doled out time to rookie forwards Jack McInerney and Danny Mwanga while blending the skills of Colombian teenager Roger Torres with the experience of veterans Fred and Alejandro Moreno, and also recent arrival Justin Mapp.
The only constant has been Sebastien Le Toux, who couldn’t hold down a regular starting slot during the debut MLS season for Seattle after a stellar career in the USL. Taken in the expansion draft last November, he’s played every minute of every game in 2010.
He’s played a variety of positions for Philadelphia this season, toggling between wide midfield and forward. Against Houston, Nowak started yet another young attacker, Nick Zimmerman, along with Le Toux and Moreno. Le Toux worked both flanks much of the time, yet occasionally dropped into the middle behind Moreno with Zimmerman pushed to the left. Le Toux also served as point man in the first half when, backed by a strong wind, keeper Brad Knighton aimed several dead balls in his direction.
Le Toux chased down two such kicks in the early minutes, the second of which bounced to him in the left channel. He got the ball under control and took it close to the end line, from which he hit a centering pass to Zimmerman that two defenders converged to clear.
After Houston scored to take a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute, Le Toux and his teammates stepped up their pressure. In addition to touch, vision and guile, Le Toux has one of the strongest engines in MLS and created a chance out of nothing in the 25th minute by simply being a pest.
When another long ball from Knighton dropped in his vicinity, he mistrapped it up into the air. An opponent headed it back toward the Houston goal for defender Adrian Serioux, and as LeToux chased, Serioux bungled his touch. Le Toux stole the ball and dribbled it toward goal but keeper Pat Onstad came out sharply to take it at LeToux’s feet. He grimaced at the missed opportunity.
Le Toux argued briefly with referee Kevin Stott in the 34th minute when called for a foul while backing into Serioux as he jockeyed to control a throw-in. Listed at 6-feet, 155 pounds, Le Toux has a low center of gravity and reasonable strength that enables him to serve effectively as a target man when necessary, and fend off challenges on the dribble as well as in congested situations.
In the 38th minute he ran onto a throw-in near the right touchline, dropped it back to Torres, then glided up the line past Serioux to center a ball that Ryan Cochrane cleared out for a corner kick. In two more minutes he’d outfoxed Cochrane and the Dynamo back line to tie the game.
Torres, on the right side of midfield in the Dynamo half, escaped the marking of Brad Davislong enough to serve a left-footed diagonal ball as Le Toux, this time in the middle, slipped behind Cochrane into the penalty area. He extended his left leg and foot to cushion the ball at waist-height, then as it neared the ground fluidly drilled it right-footed along the grass just inside the post.
“Golazo!!” trumpeted the TeleFutura commentator. That it was, a sublime trap and classy finish made to look effortless by Le Toux’s poise, balance, and skill.
Both teams worked and sweated through the second half without conjuring up many chances. Le Toux drew a pair of fouls from Cochrane; the second one provided the Union with a free kick in stoppage time from more than 35 yards out. Ambitiously, Le Toux went for goal and missed high, the ball clearing the crossbar by a few yards and careening into a tunnel near a banner proclaimed that side of PPL Park to be the “River End.”
Such shots sometimes trigger groans and derisive shouts even from the home fans, but instead, they saluted Le Toux’s attempt, and gave him another rousing cheer a few seconds later at the final whistle. The Union has missed the playoffs in its inaugural season yet has given its fans plenty of reasons for optimism, including a very capable No. 9.