Chester, Pa. - Sebastien Le Toux has experienced nothing short of a meteoric rise for the expansion Philadelphia Union in 2010. The versatile and relentless attacker has been among the league leaders in combined goals and assists for most of the year, currently sitting atop MLS with a collective total of 18 (nine goals, nine assists) after being left unprotected by the Seattle Sounders in the Expansion Draft.
The first-time all-star struggled for consistent playing time last season, but his brief tenure so far with the Union has been a different story under Manager Peter Nowak, beginning with a hat trick in Philadelphia’s first official preseason game against UNC-Chapel Hill. With increased freedom that evidently suits the Frenchman quite well, Le Toux has turned in a record-breaking regular season.
Prior to this season, the best offensive output for any MLS Expansion Draft selection in the following year was nine goals and seven assists, set in 2009 by Le Toux’s former teammate Nate Jaqua. It took the Union’s leading scorer exactly 14 matches to reach that mark, which dates back to 1998 when the Chicago Fire and now defunct Miami Fusion entered the league.
While Le Toux has previously acknowledged that being left unprotected served as motivation, the 26-year-old now says it’s no longer something he worries about.
[inline_node:286691]“No, I’m not really thinking about that anymore,” he told philadelphiaunion.com after training on Wednesday. “I try to watch my game every time after we play and I can see that I can do much better. Sometimes I miss so many opportunities where I can score goals or can do a better assist. I just try to be hard on myself and tell myself if I did better maybe I can have more (goals and assists) and win the game for my team.”
Any player can retrospectively analyze a match and find occasions where he could’ve done better, but the truth remains: no one in MLS has been as prolific as Le Toux this season.
As a matter of fact, Le Toux’s cumulative productivity as both a scorer and distributor resides in rare territory.
Since the inception of Major League Soccer in 1996, only three players have reached double-digit goals and assists within their club’s first 20 matches. Diego Serna holds the record for the least number of matches needed to reach the mark (18), set in 2001 with the Fusion. The two others are current Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis with the Dallas Burn (19 matches in 1999) and Mauricio Cienfuegos with the LA Galaxy (20 matches in 1998). In actual matches played, as opposed to their club’s total, Serna and Cienfuegos reached the mark in 16 and 18 matches respectively, while Kreis appeared in all 19 of his club’s contests.
Le Toux -- who has played in 17 matches so far this season due to an injury that cost him two matches -- needs at least one goal and one assist against D.C. United this Sunday to join the elite 10/10 in 20 matches company, something he’s done on three previous occasions this season (vs Houston, Seattle and Toronto).
Consider this though: Le Toux is playing at a time when goals are down drastically league-wide as compared to 1998-2001. MLS clubs scored an average of 1.61 goals per game between ’98 and ’01, while teams are only scoring an average of 1.11 goals per game in 2010. Put within that historical context, the former USL-1 MVP’s accomplishments are nothing short of remarkable.
Le Toux was refreshingly honest when asked whether he pays attention to statistics, but he ultimately -- and expectedly -- brought the conversation back to his club.
“Of course (I pay attention to my offensive numbers),” Le Toux said. “It’s better than I ever did in MLS. It’s my second year here. I’m pretty happy about it and just want to continue to put up bigger numbers and at the end help my team.”
When informed of the all-time comparisons his numbers are drawing, Le Toux was proud of his performance to date this season, but not satisfied.
“It’s a nice thing for me, but I’m not going to now sleep because this (breakout) happened," he said. "It’s not done. We still have a lot of games to play and I just want to continue to progress and do the best, because like I said, every time I can do better. Sometimes I miss an opportunity I can score goals (and) maybe it was an easy one. I see what I can do better and (will) try to put the number (of goals and assists) higher for the rest of the season.”
For all of Le Toux’s statistical exploits, perhaps his most impressive is one that the Union would prefer to spoil.
The MLS record for a single player’s percentage involvement in his club’s goal is 61.1 percent, set in 1999 by Kreis when he accumulated 18 goals and 15 assists out of 54 total goals.
Le Toux? How about a potentially record-shattering 78.3 percent.
With his involvement in 18 of the club’s 23 goals -- the Union's average of 1.21 goal per match ranks sixth in MLS on a per-match basis behind LA, Salt Lake, Dallas, Columbus and Chicago -- Le Toux is well on his way to setting a record that will be difficult to touch in future years.
If he’s the one to break the record, that is.
Amazingly, Le Toux -- who netted a hat trick for the first three goals in Union history -- is actually one of three players threatening to break the previous record. Fredy Montero has been involved in 73.9 percent of Seattle’s goals (17 out of 23) and Juan Pablo Ángel has been involved in 61.9 percent of New York’s goals (13 out of 21).
[inline_node:286692]Despite paying attention to his numbers to an extent, Le Toux admitted he had no idea about his 78 percent involvement.
“I didn’t even know about that,” the all-star starter said with a laugh. “I don’t really think about it. I hope we can score more goals because if we score more goals we win games. If it’s not me (and it’s) another guy I will be very happy.
“Like you said, I’m (involved in) almost all the goals this year for my team. It’s flattering for me. I can see that because of the work I do on the field with my teammates it works well and it works well for me. It’s just nice, but I’m not really thinking about 78 percent or 61 percent. I don’t know what it means, but of course if I can score more and pass more it will (result in) goals so I will be happy about that.”
Asked about Le Toux’s achievements, Union defender Jordan Harvey wasn’t overly surprised, but he did admit that Philadelphia would be better off spreading the wealth.
“I actually followed Seba when he was in the (USL-First Division) and he was scoring a ton of goals, so I knew he was capable of doing that,” Harvey said. “With Seattle he didn’t really get to play in his position as much as a regular starter like he has here, so I knew he was capable of doing that and he’s done really well. He’s scored a ton of goals, a ton of assists, and we’ve relied on him, almost too much. Danny [Mwanga] is stepping it up now and we need more guys to step it up like they have.”
With one record already in the books, another mark within range on Sunday, and a third all-time record well within his reach, Le Toux has firmly established himself as one of the league's premier players. Regardless of the way he finishes the season, nine goals and nine assists through 17 matches played in this day and age is exceptionable, especially when you consider that only one player has produced both double-digit goals and assists in the previous three seasons (Jaime Moreno, with 10 goals and 10 assists in 2008).
For a player as team-oriented as Le Toux, it's fitting to see an equal number of total goals and assists. He doesn’t appear to have a preference between the two -- or even whether he’s involved at all -- as long as they’re coming in a winning effort.
“It doesn’t matter (whether I score or register an assist),” Le Toux said in his thick French accent. “I was talking yesterday to somebody and when you do an assist when it’s already 3-0 for the opposing team or 3-1, OK it’s nice but you don’t really enjoy it.
“It’s better to do it at home in front of your fans because you can really feel them cheering behind you. It’s good every time when you (the club) do an assist or a goal because it’s the same feeling even if it’s not me to score. It’s great to see everybody is happy and we just jump on each other to celebrate. It’s what I like.”
For all of his statistical feats, Le Toux’s unsurpassed work ethic, discernible humility and deep appreciation of Philadelphia fans are far more powerful influences on the reality of what he’s become in a short period of time.
What he's become, very simply, is Philadelphia Union’s first true superstar.
(Statistics provided by the Elias Sports Bureau)