Play-by-Play Plus: Positive steps forward
When you examine what went wrong with the 2012 Philadelphia Union season, it was evident that the team would need to upgrade certain areas in order to return to a playoff team. These first two moves recently announced are a big step in the right direction, coming on the heels of the release of three players that allowed for some salary cap space.
In Sebastien Le Toux and Jeff Parke, you get two established MLS players.
Both players have had success in this league so there's no mystery in terms of what this duo can do. Contrast this with some of last year’s Union signings, Gabriel Gomez, Porfirio Lopez and Lionard Pajoy. While each of those players has had success in previous stops, there was no sure way to tell if they could make it in MLS. The Union learned a lesson the hard way.
The trade to bring Le Toux back to Philadelphia tells you a lot about this organization. Whatever went wrong that forced the trade of Le Toux to Vancouver last year; all parties concerned knew it was a mistake that needed to be corrected. Some clubs would have said, “been there, done that “and let's move on,” but not the Union.
The Union and Le Toux are a perfect fit, and it was good to see that Seba smile at Friday's re-introductory press conference that welcomed him back to Philadelphia. This was a player who bled blue and gold for two seasons. While his body was in Vancouver and later New York this past year, his heart was still in Philadelphia.
To those who might think this was a signing strictly for PR purposes, I would beg to differ. While there is no doubt that the Le Toux signing was a crowd pleaser, (Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz even noted that the team did listen to its fans in bringing him back), the club would not have brought him back if they didn't believe he would make an impact on the field. The same impact he made when he registered 25 goals and 20 assists during the regular season in his two years with the Union.
Manager John Hackworth knows what Le Toux brings to the table besides the goals and the assists. Simply put, Sebastien brings an all-out 90-minute effort like no player I've seen in my years of covering MLS. The score of the game doesn't matter, nor does the time on the clock, or the stadium. Le Toux is a one man full court press, putting pressure on opponents who are trying to bring the ball upfield. He defends relentlessly, but with a purpose. When other players on the team see his effort, how can they not attempt to match it? Much of Le Toux’ offensive numbers in those first two Union years were helped out by his defensive presence.
This past season was a rough one for Le Toux, playing for two teams in two countries, and his numbers reflected the turbulence. He knows he's a better player and will have that in his mind when he puts on the Union uniform again. It's great to see him back.
As for Jeff Parke, to me he is one of the more underrated central defenders in MLS. He's been a starter for three years on a very good Seattle team that has always made the playoffs. He's a player who will battle for every ball, on the ground or in the air, regardless of the opponent. Before his years in Seattle, he was in New York, as a starter for the MetroStars and then Red Bulls for five seasons. He's a player that opposing forwards don't like to play against.
At this point, who knows how the back four for the Union will look once the 2013 season kicks off, but for sure John Hackworth has added some depth to the team, while also giving himself some options. It’s hard to envision Parke not starting for the Union so we'll have to see how this plays out. If he's in the starting 11, Union fans will have a solid central defender there. If he happens to be part of your bench that means your back four is exceptional.
Either way the Union can't lose.
Their first two off season signings are very impressive known commodities. However, those two signings alone surely don't mean the Union should start printing playoff tickets as there is more work to be done. More changes are coming for sure and as we wait for those changes, there is at least more reason these days for optimism.
That can only be a good sign.