Only eight players have accumulated 50 goals and 50 assists for the same MLS franchise. Sebastien Le Toux is one of them, and he did it over two stints with Philadelphia Union. On Tuesday afternoon the French attacker signed a one day contract and retired as a member of the club and community where he is, and will remain, a legend.
Le Toux will also be the inaugural inductee into Philadelphia Union's Ring of Honor on June 23rd prior to the Union’s match against Vancouver Whitecaps at Talen Energy Stadium. It is a fitting reward for a player that, more than anyone else, captured the energy of the nascent club and channeled it into his play. Fans that attended the Union's first match could not pull their eyes from the lithe striker’s movement, work, and, of course, his goal, the first in franchise history. He added a second that day. And then a third. For Le Toux, that match -- and those goals -- turned a fresh start in Philadelphia into something far more important in his life.
"My best memory as a player is the first game in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial against DC when we won 3-2 and I was lucky to score a hat-trick in this game," Le Toux said. "It was an amazing memory to see the fanbase showing -- I had no idea what a Philly fanbase was -- to see that was just great, and lucky for me I had this amazing start and helped me to be close right away to the fans. And I embrace it."
Even as the first year franchise went through growing pains on the pitch, Le Toux always sought to find positives in the team's play and in his own experiences. "In my career, I've been through losing seasons here, and I've been through some winning seasons here," he reflected. "And it's good to learn when you don't succeed, and that happened to me a few times. So I always try to learn from it, to become a better player and a better person. Even if we had a difficult start the first year, the second year was better."
The striker spoke of the intensity and excitement that permeated Philadelphia when the club played an Open Cup final at home, and it was clear he lived those moments both as a player and, looking back, as a fan. "I really enjoyed the final of the Open Cup here, even if we lost in [penalties]," he chuckled. "It was something amazing. I never heard the stadium so packed, so crazy. It was such an amazing atmosphere and I wish it can be like this every game." Le Toux fought back tears at times during the press conference, and he explained how much it meant to him to end his career with a club that is special to him, and one that justifiably sees him as special too.
"A big thing for me was when I went to the last game last year for Brian Carroll. I wanted to be here to see him play and congratulate him on the amazing career he had, and I was happy to be his teammate," Le Toux said. "But just coming here and seeing the stadium and energy, I knew it's the team [that I want to] finish with."
Looking forward, Le Toux is not sure where life will take him. He will have a role in the Union front office, and he is thinking about trying his hand at personal coaching. But even as he retires from the game, the French striker's passion for soccer remains as strong as ever.
"I don't really know what I want to do, because the only thing I love to do is play soccer since I was ten years old," he admitted. " I'm still, in my head, a kid who loves to play soccer. But I'm almost 35 now and my legs don't run as fast as they used to."
Those legs may have slowed now, but in the memories of Union fans they remain quick as ever, churning up turf as Le Toux chased down lost causes in corners, darted behind a static defender, and, eventually, broke into a trot that brought him to the base of the River End stands.
There, Le Toux's legs would finally stop, and his arms would extend upward, reaching to make physical the connection he has felt with the Union and its fans since his first match in Philadelphia.