When the Philadelphia Union walked off the field following their final game in Columbus last season, they were disappointed.
But they were hardly discouraged.
What the players saw was incredible progress from the beginning of the inaugural season to the very end. No one was more upbeat than Sebastien Le Toux, one of the club’s leaders on and off the field.
In fact, after the season concluded, Le Toux talked about how much of a jump he expected the club to make in 2011.
After rigorous preseason training camps in Florida and Greece, he feels even better about the state of the Union.
With Saturday’s regular season opener looming at Houston, Le Toux can’t wait.
“It feels good to have our season starting,” Le Toux told philadelphiaunion.com after training on Monday. “I felt like we did a lot of very good things last season. That last game didn’t end up exactly the way we wanted, but we were a different club than the one that opened the season. We really improved. We have a lot of new faces this season, and from what I saw in preseason in Florida and Greece, we have come a long way.
“We got back, got our rest and we’re feeling good about ourselves. I’m very anxious to see where we stand when we open the season because I think the potential and talent level is quite high. The (technical) staff believes in us and we have confidence in ourselves to take that next step.”
It’s nice to be able to take that next step with a normal schedule, too.
Remember last season when PPL Park was being finalized? The Union played eight of their first 10 games on the road. It was a grueling start to the season, especially for a first-year club.
“Oh sure, it’s great to be normal with the rest of the league,” Le Toux said. “It was a hard way to start last season and we had some tough matches. What we have to make sure to focus on is ourselves. Every game is a challenge. While our schedule is normal, we can’t take anything for granted. We have to treat every training session, every practice and every match the same way. If we do that, we’ll be successful.”
Sure sounds like words from a team leader.
That’s Le Toux. He does what he says. He practices the exact same way as he plays – all out, all the time. He never takes a play off. He never gives up on a ball.
“Being around Seba last season, it was contagious watching him,” said second-year forward Danny Mwanga. “For me, in my rookie season, it helped a lot. He and I talked a good bit. Seeing how he handled himself every day was the example you’re looking for from one of your leaders. What I’ve seen this preseason looks the same as last season. I think he’s more motivated and that motivates the rest of us.”
Le Toux was sensational in 2010 and wound up starting in the All-Star Game against Manchester United, becoming the first Union player to participate in the midseason showcase. And following the season, Le Toux was named to the MLS Best XI after compiling 14 goals and 11 assists, the highest combined total in the league.
Le Toux also won the MLS Individual Fair Play Award after receiving zero cards all season.
Statistics and awards aside, Le Toux is focused solely on winning and improving.
“It’s important for us to take things one game at a time,” Le Toux said. “I don’t mind if other players score, as long as we win the match. If awards come along, that’s nice. I get the most satisfaction when we win. All of our hard work as a club comes together in a victory. That makes me happy.”
The expectations have risen since last season and Le Toux relishes those higher goals.
“I like our chemistry with all the new faces,” he said. “We have learned about each other and gotten close. It’s always tough to say goodbye to friends but that’s the business side of the league. Our club is very strong and we have very high goals for this season. All the experience we gained last season will help. We still have to go out and prove it.
“I think we’re ready for Saturday. We’re all excited about the home opener at PPL Park, but we have to look at Saturday first. That’s right there in front of us. It starts Saturday.”
How it will end, however, is obviously a mystery. The same can be said for the season as a whole.
“I think,” Le Toux said, “if we remain locked in and focused, great things can happen this season.”