Sebastien Le Toux was already an All Star in the minds of Philadelphia Union fans. Now, no one can deny his status among the league’s elite players.
After being left off the All Star First XI, Le Toux, who leads all of Major League Soccer in combined goals and assists with 14 in just 12 matches, was chosen today by All Star Head Coach Bruce Arena to join the 23-man roster that will face Manchester United (July 28, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, TeleFutura).
On the same day, Le Toux’s standout performance in a 2-1 win against Toronto earned him MLS Player of the Week honors.
“It’s crazy,” Le Toux said about receiving both distinctions in the same day. “I’m very happy about that but I’m not going to stop (working hard) right now. It’s a great day. I have a lot of thanks to all my teammates and the club of Philadelphia and the coaching staff.
“It’s great that I’ve been nominated (as an) All Star and Player of the Week today. I’m very honored but I’m not going to now sleep and stop playing. I have to continue, and most important to me is we continue to be in a good rhythm in Philadelphia and try to come back in the standings.”
If Le Toux sounds humble, it’s not just an act. The Frenchman is widely regarded as the consummate team player and one of the hardest workers on the pitch every time out.
"I think he's been fantastic,” said Union captain Danny Califf. “He's been our guy. Without him, we'd be lost in the woods. It's great for him because he's such a great guy. He's one of those locker room guys you need on every team. He's always working really hard, always running. You know, with Le Toux, he gets American humor. You can joke around with him. He just gets it. He's a great guy to have in the locker room and on the field. I don't want to think about where we would be without him this season."
Califf isn’t alone with his sentiments.
"Sebastien has been amazing this season,” added rookie midfielder Amobi Okugo. “He's been our leader on and off the field. When we need a big play, he makes it. He's a perfect player to lead you because of how he plays -- hard all the time. He's a great guy in the locker room, especially for young players."
For Le Toux, the first season in Philadelphia has been a golden opportunity to discover his own immense potential. After serving as a role player in Seattle -- albeit a fan favorite for the same industrious qualities that have endeared him to Union fans – Le Toux has flourished offensively with the newfound freedom he’s been granted by Manager Peter Nowak.
“It’s a lot of different things,” Le Toux said when asked about the change in environment that has led to his breakout season. “Last year for me, it was my first year in MLS. I was learning a lot about the new style of play with my new coach Sigi Schmid who just arrived too and a lot of new players. (It was a) little bit different for me.
“This year when I came to Philadelphia (with) Alejandro Moreno up top, Fred in the midfield, Stefani Miglioranzi, we play very well together. I got a lot of confidence in me by the coaching staff and by the club. It was a huge difference for me when I started this season with Philadelphia and I think (there has been) a lot of progress. (I’ve had) good success individually and I hope we’re going to continue like we did on Saturday."
The journey to Philadelphia has been a transformational one for Le Toux in more ways than one. The Frenchman had to find the position that fit his talents best and would earn him the most playing time, while simultaneously discovering the confidence to excel in whatever role that ended up being.
“When I came (to the U.S.), Brian Schmetzer, the coach in Seattle (of the USL Sounders before the club entered MLS in 2009), asked me where my favorite position was and I trusted him to know where he needed players,” Le Toux recalled. “In the beginning I was playing more as a defender, but he put me as a midfielder and I started to score goals. He tried me in the front and I scored goals again and after that he just left me on top.
“I really enjoy playing this position. It gives me a lot of memories of when I was younger, 10 or 12 years old, (when) I was playing this position. I really enjoy myself and am happy on the field (in an attacking role)… I continue to enjoy it and try to progress the best I can every year. So far it’s good for me.”
Given the fact that Le Toux was featured in a defensive role before coming to the U.S., you’ll have to excuse followers of French soccer who may double-take when seeing Le Toux as one of the most dangerous offensive threats in MLS.
“I can (understand) that a lot of people (in France) will be surprised that I play forward here,” Le Toux said. “In France I was a right back. It wasn’t really the position I love to play; it was more my ability to run, and the coaching staff I got in France put me in this position. I’m glad I came here and I play forward.”
When the Sounders came into MLS as an expansion side, Schmid decided to employ the club’s first-ever signing as a wing midfielder most of the time. After the season, Seattle left Le Toux unprotected in the MLS Expansion Draft.
While Le Toux clearly showed that he belonged in MLS in his relatively limited playing time last season, in hindsight the role he was given failed to maximize his talents.
“When coach Sigi Schmid asked me to play more as a wide midfielder, (there was) not so much freedom like I can have as a midfielder with Philly,” Le Toux explained. “It’s a little bit different. Maybe I was a bit nervous when I was playing. I maybe needed a bit more confidence in myself to know that I could play this position (attacking midfielder). This year I think (I’m doing) a good job. This year I have more freedom in the midfield and run everywhere. It’s what I like. I really enjoy playing with my teammates this year. I try to do my best on the field; it’s what my teammates like and the coaching staff too.”
What teammates or coaching staff wouldn’t like a player like Le Toux? Put a different way, what doesn’t the first-time All Star do? He scores, he distributes, he hustles back on defense, he’s a leader by example on the pitch and in the locker room, and he fully appreciates the support of his hometown fans.
"I have been trying to find myself since I got here to Philadelphia, and by that I mean to mesh with my new teammates,” said Le Toux. “It has been a great experience. I have enjoyed everything about being in Philadelphia. This is a team atmosphere here, and I am just happy to contribute. I think the fans are passionate here, and it's exciting to see them celebrate after a home win. To have them behind us is great. You feel their energy when you step on the field."
Le Toux has given the hometown fans plenty to smile about this season. According to the Union’s leading scorer, they’ve more than reciprocated.
“It makes me smile every time,” Le Toux said in response to a fan who called into MLS ExtraTime Radio today asking what it felt like to hear his name chanted at PPL Park. “I really enjoy it. Every time I’m on field I try to really give 100 percent. I’m (living) my dream, so I just enjoy all the time I’m on the field. I know I’m very lucky. So when I have a chance to hear my name said by all the fans in the stadium…I’m just thankful for the chance I got so it makes me smile, because everybody says my name very loud.”
If Le Toux continues to play at the same level he has over the first half of the MLS campaign, the voices chanting his name will only continue to grow louder. Given his extraordinary work ethic, there’s no reason to think that he’ll slow down anytime soon.
With Le Toux being joined in MLS by another Frenchman, Thierry Henry of the New York Red Bulls, some may wonder who will score more goals the rest of the season.
While laughing, Le Toux offered honestly and humbly, “I don’t know, we’ll see.”
If you knew just a few months ago that Henry would be signed, sealed, and delivered to Red Bull Arena, who would’ve given the Union’s man even a fighting chance?
Didn’t think so. Don’t worry though, it wouldn’t have been the first time Le Toux’s ability as a premier striker had been doubted.
Pretty hard to count him out now though, isn't it?