As a Frenchman, he was too polite to say how he really feels about the Seattle Sounders other than to acknowledge his former team is full of quality players and is one of the stronger clubs in the league.
But come Saturday make no mistake about it: Sebastien Le Toux will push every muscle fiber, seek every advantage and search for just a sliver of space to knock the ball into the back of Seattle’s net.
“They have a lot of quality players,” Le Toux told Sportspress Northwest. “I know most of them. I know they are good and they are going to come here to get something. We are ready for that, and we know what we need to do to get three points. I will try my best to win the game.”
After being unprotected by the Sounders in the 2009 MLS Expansion Draft, Le Toux was selected by the Philadelphia Union. The change, which at first seemed like exile on the island of Elba, was transforming. Le Toux emerged last season as one of the premier offensive stars in Major League Soccer.
His achievements last year were simply stunning for someone who wasn’t even starting in Seattle the previous year: he racked up 14 goals and 11 assists –the highest combined total in the league. He set an MLS record for percentage involvement in his club’s goals at 71.4 percent. He was selected to the MLS All-Star game and started against Manchester United.
At the conclusion of the season, Le Toux was named to the 2010 MLS Best XI. He also won the MLS Individual Fair Play Award after receiving no cards all season.
He is quite possibly the hardest working player in the MLS — a trait that certainly endeared him to the fans in Seattle and which has certainly captured the hearts of the Union supporters.
Ever diplomatic, Le Toux gushed about his experience in Seattle, and he said to be part of its inaugural season in the MLS was special.
“I love the city. The fans were great,” he said. “I really enjoyed my time in Seattle. Here, it’s still building, but I really enjoyed my season last year.”
Indeed. And the start to this season isn’t too shabby, either. Le Toux has been relatively quiet and has yet to score a goal. But the Union sits atop the Eastern Conference with nine points and a 3-1-0 record, having defeated MLS Cup favorites New York Red Bulls 1-0 last week.
No one could have predicted the Union standing atop the conference, but it is still early in the season. Le Toux said the strong start, so far, can be attributed to the core group of players knowing each other better. Some of the new player acquisitions have really helped shore up the defense — particularly signing Colombian National team goalie Faryd Mondragon–and Colombian centerback Carlos Valdes.
But Mondragon — the league’s top goalie with three shutouts –has been key, said Le Toux. The 39-year-old Colombian, who has played for big European clubs, brings veteran leadership to the young club. He sets a high standard that everyone follows, Le Toux said.
“He brings great mentality. He played in the national team, two World Cups,” Le Toux said. “He played in Europe, in Germany and in Spain. Hes a great character and he really wants to do his best every day.
“The defense will listen to him,” Le Toux said. “Hes got a very good charisma. He gets respect from everybody. And no one argues when he starts to yell.”
One of the goals for the Union entering the 2011 season, Le Toux said, was to improve the team’s overall defense. The Union gave up 49 goals last year — only New England conceded more. Some of that can be attributed to Philadelphia having to play part of the first half of the season on the road while PPL Park was being built.
“We tried to work hard on defense– we gave up too many goals last year,” Le Toux said. “We have three shutouts, which is amazing. We now all have a defensive responsibility. The formation we play is different than last year, but we will keep the same concentration defensively.”
The goals are still lacking, he concedes, as the Union’s offense is still looking for its best combination. The Union purchased Carlos Ruiz, a well-known goal-scoring poacher, who is still assimilating into the squad. But the goals will come, Le Toux says. “Carlos is getting better in the progression of the game we play,” he said. “Im sure we will score more goals.”
For the Union, it’s a matter of maintaining this momentum. Nobody thought the Union would lead the Eastern Conference, particularly with all the attention showered on the Red Bulls and their star-studded lineup.
“It doesnt surprise me,” he said. “We know our quality. We know ourselves. Its too early now to say we are the best. We try to take game after game.”