[MLS SPOTLIGHT] Qualifying for the playoffs in its second season hasn't prevented the Philadelphia Union from renovating its roster as it prepares for Year 3. A day after announcing it had parted ways with Colombian goalkeeper Fayrd Mondragon by mutual agreement, Philly on Tuesday confirmed reports that it had traded top scorer Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver in exchange for allocation money. Since the amount wasn't specified, which team came out better is impossible to debate, though the 'Caps have snagged a 28-year-old scorer with an impeccable reputation who logged 25 goals and 20 assists for the Union after joining the then-expansion team for its inaugural 2010 season.
“What we like about Sebastien is obviously the points that he puts on the board but in addition to that his workrate for a forward is second to one,” said Vancouver president Bob Lendarduzziin a teleconference call with reporters Tuesday. “When his team loses the ball he’s always willing to put in the extra work to get it back, and that’s not normally something you associate with a forward that scores goals.
“They’re there to score goals but if you can also match that up with a great workrate, you really have the all-round product from a strike position. That’s something we’re looking forward to incorporating into our squad. We have a number of options up front and Sebastien is a great addition to that.”
The addition of Le Toux to an attack featuring striker Eric Hassli, winger Davide Chiumiento and perhaps forward Camilo Sanvezzo – who is engaged in contract negotiations – along with recent acquisition Lee Nguyen gives more firepower to new head coach Martin Rennie, who in his previous coaching stint with Carolina RailHawks encountered Le Toux a few times in the lower divisions. So, too, did Lenarduzzi, who served as the ‘Caps director of soccer operations in its USL days.
“I’m familiar with him from our days in the United Soccer Leagues and I’m familiar with him not necessarily for great memories, because he scored a lot of goals against the Whitecaps and he scored a lot of goals in USL,” said Lenarduzzi. “But it’s been interesting to see his evolution from the time he was in USL.”
Apparently that evolution didn’t entirely please either Le Toux or Union coach Peter Nowak, at least from the player’s perspective. Seattle signed Le Toux for its 2009 expansion season and he labored to land a regular spot while playing more in midfield than his preferred position at forward. He appeared to flourish in Philly, yet despite a great first year (14 goals, 11 assists) and assuming more of the scoring burden in 2011 after Carlos Ruiz departed (11 goals, nine assists), he’s moving on again.
“The fact that I’m leaving, I was sad at the beginning because I’ve had two good years here,” Le Toux said in an interview with a Vancouver radio station. “But after the fact, the coach of Philadelphia doesn’t really want me anymore in his team. The Whitecaps want me more and believe in me.”
On a separate teleconference call with reporters Tuesday, Nowak said the moves were made so the team could increase its investment in younger players; specifically, it has bought the rights to midfielder Roger Torres, who had played the last two MLS seasons on loan. Under league rules, allocation money can be used to re-sign current players or acquire new ones, and as a player whose loan has been converted into a transfer, Torres qualifies on both counts. He’s also young (20).
“We wanted to invest in the future,” said Nowak of the Union, which is also working on a new deal for defender Sheanon Williams, who turns 22 next month. “We have a very good foundation with youth pieces here. We want to keep the group intact and we think this [decision] will make them even stronger. With our resources we have, we’ll reinvest in our youth.”
Whatever the reasons, Vancouver jumped at an opportunity it had tried to create six months ago. “Truth be known, we had inquired about Sebastien halfway through last season,” Lenarduzzi said. “There was no interest on Philadelphia’s part to move him. By expressing an interest, I’m assuming we were one of the first calls they made.”
LeToux is in the final year of the four-year contract he signed to play in Seattle. Lenarduzzi declined comment on when negotiations for a new deal might commence. Le Toux's 2011 salary was $179,000 in total compensation; Mondragon’s deal was worth $230,000 in base salary and nearly $400,000 in total compensation. (Torres earned $108,725).
The move came as a surprise to Le Toux, who spent part of Monday training with the Union and also took his physical. Tuesday morning he got a phone call from assistant coach John Hackworth, who informed him of the trade. Le Toux then spoke with Rennie, who was traveling to Arizona with the team for the next phase of preseason training. He then began moving the pieces for the next phase of his career in yet another city that has embraced its MLS team.
“It’s always hard to leave a team, especially as I was committed 100 percent when I was in Philadelphia,” said LeToux. “I’m just going to be 100 percent with the Vancouver Whitecaps now. I’m lucky to be able to play in places where the fans are great.”