Seba Le Toux: I hope Philly will do well

No one in the Modern Era has scored more goals in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup than Sebastien Le Toux. In eight tournaments, the French midfielder/forward scored 16 goals in 33 matches for both the Division I and Division II versions of the Seattle Sounders as well as the Philadelphia Union. He also had the opportunity to take a victory lap with the Open Cup trophy as a member of the Sounders in 2009 when the Major League Soccer expansion team bested host D.C. United, 2-1, for the championship.

Le Toux participated in two more Final games, losing to the Sounders in the 2014 championship game, 3-1, and Sporting Kansas City in the 2015 decider, 7-6 in a penalty shootout after playing to a 1-1 draw.

Now 34, Le Toux set the scoring record with his 14th Open Cup goal in a 2-0 Quarterfinal victory over the New England Revolution in 2014. His 47th-minute free-kick went through the hands of goalkeeper Brad Knighton as he surpassed current Richmond Kickers coach David Bulow, Johnny Menyongar and D.C. United legend Jaime Moreno on the modern-day (1996-present) goal-scoring list.

(A mural of Seba Le Toux at the Union's Talen Energy Stadium & it's not the only one - photo Jonah Fontela)

“That’s something special,” Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin told reporters at the time Le Toux broke the record. “It’s a great honor. It just shows he’s been on good teams that have gone on good runs in the competition.”

Le Toux announced his retirement on May 8, signing a one-day contract with the Union. And now, this Sept. 26, Le Toux's former team, the Union will tussle with the Houston Dynamo in the 2018 Open Cup Final at BBVA Compass Stadium in southeast Texas.

Of course, Le Toux will be rooting for the Union. "Everybody's got a chance," he said. "In my first year of the competition with Seattle, we were the underdog and we always came up with a good win. It's just one game. Anything can happen. I think for me, the team that will want it the most will win it. Sometimes it gets decided by PKs, sometimes it's a big win. I hope Philly will do well."

With the Final growing ever-closer, caught up with this Open Cup legend for a chat about his favorite tournament, his career overall and his life after soccer… How do you explain your personal success, your goal-scoring prowess in the Open Cup? It's pretty impressive.
Sebastien Le Toux: I was lucky to go on a few runs with the teams I have been with, with Seattle in the USL. The motivation was strong when I was in the USL with Seattle against MLS teams. You have more motivation to do well against those teams. It happened to me. I got a few goals with the runs I had with the USL. It was two good years for me. And after that, a good luck charm for me this competition. When you have a chance to play for a trophy it's always good.

(Le Toux - left - after winning the U.S. Open Cup with the Seattle Sounders) 

Is there a favorite goal of yours you remember scoring in the Open Cup?
SLT: I remember it was four in one game in the First Round. It was against Hollywood United FC. We beat them 6-0 and I scored four goals. It never happened to me where I scored four goals in one game. It was interesting. One of the goals was pretty nice, the last one I scored. Otherwise, the one that I remember the most was the last one I had with Philadelphia in the [2015] final when I scored the first goal. It was a good goal. The atmosphere in the stadium was pretty cool.

Four goals over 41 minutes, that's quite an accomplishment [editor's note: Le Toux tallied in the 22nd, 38th, 60th and 63rd minutes].
SLT: I was very lucky. I had good teammates who gave me good balls. It was not just me.

When you broke the Open Cup scoring record in the Quarterfinal win over New England in 2014, how big a deal was it for you?
SLT: It was great. I was not really aware about it. I remember when a journalist asked me a question about it – it was like 14 goals – I was like, really? I thought I had more. I scored more in the Open Cup but I guess it didn't count because it was the round before, when you enter the tournament in the preliminary round, like a qualifying round. I think I scored two or three goals in those rounds when I used to play for Seattle, but it didn't count. I thought I was already at 16 or something [laughs]. I guess it didn't count. It was funny, but I was very happy to be the leading scorer. It was great.

What has the Open Cup meant to you?
SLT: In America you can just win two trophies, pretty much. The MLS Cup and the Open Cup. It's a great competition to bring all the U.S. clubs together. It was good for fans, for cities when you have a smaller club and you host a big team to see soccer is really big in your town. Every time a small team hosts a big team the stadium is always full. I think I had a chance to play in big games like that. It's what you love as a player. You play a game where it counts for everything. It's great. Luckily, I've been through a few runs in this Cup for many years before. I always enjoyed my time playing in this competition.

(Le Toux in action for D.C. United - the wrap on his knee a harbinger of early retirement) 

With the 2009 Seattle Sounders, an MLS expansion team, what was the Open Cup run like? It was an "old team" for you, yet it was a new team in a new league facing many difficult challenges. What was that like back in 2009?
SLT: It was great. I remember the first few rounds until the Final. I guess the team the coach put on the field were not really the starters in the league and we tried to rest the guys. Everybody was really together. It was not like he put out the B team, but he put a lot of players who wanted to show something to the coach. I think we played very well as a team. We had very good results together. It was motivating to show that even though they don't play every weekend, they still can be players. I think this tournament was not just 11, 14 players. It was really the entire group. Everybody played, even one minute in this tournament. It was great to see we won it as a team.

As it turned out, you did not score in the Final, but you assisted on what turned out to be the winning goal by Roger Levesque. It was kind of ironic for someone who would become the Open Cup's all-time leading goal-scorer.
SLT: At the time, the coach asked me to play as a forward. I was playing more as a midfielder. I got the ball 1v1. With my speed, I just passed the defender. Roger was running, and I crossed him the ball and he just put it into the goal. It was great because we were winning 1-0. It was a 2-0 goal. It gave us a little cushion. There were five or 10 minutes left in the game. We were playing together two years before that. To see him score the winning goal was great.

Assisting on a goal is not as headline-making as scoring one, but you have to have a sense of accomplishment.
SLT: Of course. If you play as a forward or a midfielder, they ask you to score goals or to create goals. Most important, it's to win. You play a team sport. For me, it doesn't matter who scores and who did the assist. If you win at the end, it is most important. Luckily, I was able to be one of the assists and I am happy about that. At the end, I was happy that we got the Cup and the game.

Can you describe the feeling after the final whistle when the Seattle Sounders won the Open Cup that year?
SLT: It was a big accomplishment especially for me, Roger and a few guys on the team who were on the USL team for two years. We got eliminated twice, so to be able to win it together and bring it to the fans, it was really a big accomplishment. Everybody had a big relief. We were just so happy. We could not wait to go back to Seattle and celebrate with the fans.

(Although he's bounced around a bit, Le Toux has a special bond with Philadelphia Union)

What was the celebration like in Seattle?
SLT: It was not as big because it was the first year. I really remember the flight after the game. We probably arrived in Seattle around 3 a.m. and a lot of fans were waiting for us at a private airport and it was pretty cool. The next day we showed the Cup to the fans. We were not expecting as many fans to stay awake and wait for us at the airport the day of the Final.

You have played in the Open Cup several times since then. You came close to winning it with Philadelphia against Sporting Kansas City in 2015. How frustrating and disappointing was it getting so close to get another title in 2014 and 2015?
SLT: We lost against Seattle in extra-time and we lost in PKs to Kansas City. The one against Seattle, it was great. We played a very good game. We were very unlucky not to get the win. Everybody gave their best. Seattle was the better team. The one against Kansas City was really hard to swallow because we were so close. Losing in PKs was like 50-50. It was hard to accept. You always want to win. I was just trying to bring the first trophy to Philadelphia like we did for Seattle in their first [MLS] year.

You retired from the professional game at the end of the 2017 MLS season. What do you miss about soccer?
SLT: It was my dream since I was a kid to be a professional player, so I'm really, really blessed to do that for almost 20 years. I think the thing I miss the most to just be able to play on the field for the fans. It's just always what you love when you play soccer. It's what I love. You just have this little excitement when you're playing for people who want you to win and you really work hard and you want your club and your city to be successful. So, it's just kind of like missing the first time you step onto the field and you have people cheering for you and they want you to do well. It's maybe the only thing I am missing a little bit. I knew it was going to happen. You cannot play forever.

(Le Toux never won an Open Cup with Philly, but they're back in the Final is 2018 - a third in five years)

What are you doing now? When one door closes, another opens – perhaps several – for retired players…
SLT: Right now I'm back in Philadelphia. I am a little bit connected with the Union. I do a type of ambassador work for them when they need me. I love to be involved with the team or a sponsor. I just created a private coaching website. I love to give back to the game. Coaching one on one or going to teams or a small group that wants to learn from me. I am doing that right now around Philadelphia. I had a personal trainer and personal coach for many years when I started and it really helped me to reach the next level in my soccer and also a lot mentally, too, because mentally it is very important when you get closer and closer to be one of the best. I try to do that now and share my experience and what I learned to the next generation.

I am trying to be my own boss right now, not kind of diving into something that's eight-to-five, Monday through Friday. I like to have some of my own time and decide where I want to go. If I don't want to work one day, I say no. I just want to rest and get some off-time. When you play soccer for 20 years you have no weekends, you have no week. You miss a lot of things, with the family, with the friends. I just need a little time off from that and be on my own a little bit. I still keep busy and still do stuff I like to do. We'll see. I don't know the next step for me yet. I am trying to see exactly what I want to do next. Soccer is what I loved to do and I now trying to find things that I love to do more.

Recently you were the first player inducted into the Philadelphia Union's Ring of Honor. Just being inducted into a Ring of Honor or Hall of Fame is a tremendous honor. When you're the first one; that has to make it even more special.
SLT: Yeah, it’s weird in a way because I just retired. So it's kind of hard to have a vision of this thing. It's tremendous. I am so awed to be the first one. Really, I wanted to play for a long time, not knowing that I was going to be traded. I am living in Philadelphia now. It is where my wife is from and where I am probably going to stay for a few years. It is weird. I was to a game two weeks ago and just to see my name going to be in the stadium forever, it's really special to me and weird at the same time. I'm sure with more years to come, I can look behind and [say] 'Yeah, I'm very proud and honored to be the first one for sure.'

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