Before this season, Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga had combined for just a single goal in MLS play.
Sure, Le Toux had only been in America’s top flight for a year and Mwanga was plying his trade as a sophomore at Oregon State University less than 12 months ago. Nevertheless, neither of the Union’s two leading scorers were known quantities heading into the club’s inaugural season.
Expectations for Mwanga were certainly high after he was selected with the first overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, but they were relatively tempered for his rookie season at least. And Le Toux? Well, projections for expansion draft picks generally range from moderate to low, usually weighted towards the latter.
Less than a full season later the combination is among the most potent in the league, providing the type of attacking core that Manager Peter Nowak can construct his club around heading into 2011.
Le Toux’s 11 goals and 10 assists are level with Landon Donovan’s seven goals and 14 assists for the highest combined mark in the league, while Mwanga’s seven goals pace MLS rookies. As a duo, Le Toux and Mwanga have accounted for two-thirds of Philadelphia’s total goals, with one assisting on the other’s tally eight different times.
In separate interviews with philadelphiaunion.com, the two emerging stars made it clear that they’re continuously working to fine tune their partnership. Neither neglected to credit fellow forward Alejandro Moreno for the experience and wisdom he adds to the mix, even if his goal scoring total lags well behind those of his counterparts.
“We have been playing together since January, so I think we are starting to get each other better,” said Mwanga, the youngest of the trio at age 19. “At the same time I have been watching those two guys, Sebastien and Alejandro, and I have been learning a lot from their games and I have been trying to bring it into my game. It is just a great opportunity.”
Mwanga has benefited greatly from playing with Le Toux, who now commands the attention of opposing sides at all times, and Moreno, who has a knack for occupying defenders while his teammates find space off the ball.
But even with Le Toux and Mwanga reaping the rewards, Le Toux insists there is plenty of room for improvement.
“We get lots of goals together,” he said. “He assists me or I assist him on some goals. It is pretty nice, but we still work on it a lot. We, of course, can do much better and because there is lots of action we sometimes miss a pass. We can really do better. So we are still working on it.”
[inline_node:287237]Evidently, at least part of their burgeoning chemistry derives from a mutual understanding of Le Toux’s native language: French.
Hey, whatever works.
“It’s good, we can communicate together in French because he speaks French a little bit, like me,” Le Toux explained. “So it’s easier to understand each other and he is really understanding how I play, and he is listening a lot.
“He wants to play with me and we can progress together, and I am the same. So it’s great to work like that every day. And with Alejandro, we can get lots of great tips from him. It is a great chemistry between us three."
Above all else, the most powerful driver of the flourishing rapport between the club’s two most prolific strikers -- yes, more than a common language -- is a mutual respect for one another that translates into a desire to work together.
Need proof? Just listen to them sing each other’s praises.
“He is definitely a hard worker,” Mwanga said of Le Toux. “He is just non-stop. He doesn’t stop running and I think that is a good thing, because you never know exactly when you are going to get that chance to break in behind the defense. So you just have to keep knocking on the door.
“That is just one of the good things about his game; he just works hard and keeps putting pressure on the defense and I think that is one of the things that helps him to get so many opportunities in the game. By putting so much pressure on the backline, you are going to get a chance.”
Right back at you, Danny.
“I think he is very technical and he has very good technique,” Le Toux explained, without knowing he was receiving reciprocal praise from the youngster. “He is very good at dribbling and his first touch is good every time. It is nice to have him taking the space too. He is getting stronger and he, like me and everybody else, can progress in different aspects of the game. He has a lot of quality for his age and he is going to be a very good player.”
Make no mistake: Both Le Toux and Mwanga are already very good players. Exactly how good they’ll each become remains to be seen, but it sure appears as though growing alongside one another is accelerating the development process. Their efforts aren’t likely to result in a playoff berth for the Union in Year One, but the future is undoubtedly bright in Philadelphia.
Ask any Union fan why and there's a pretty good chance they'll offer two reasons above all else.
Yeah, you guessed it.