By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (July 19, 2012) US Soccer Players — No one disputes that Sebastien Le Toux is a very good soccer player. Tireless, intuitive, and skilled, Le Toux has a collection of abilities that make him a highly valued asset on any team with which he plays. That collection of abilities made Le Toux a regular MVP candidate and fan favorite in Philadelphia, where he quickly became the face of a franchise in need of one.
Over the course of two years, Le Toux was the focal point of the Union offense, scoring 25 goals and collecting 20 assists. In the run up to the 2012 season, knowledgeable soccer fans in America would've identified Le Toux as crucial to any Union success.
You probably already know next part of the story.
Deemed more valuable as an asset to be bartered or sold than as a part of the Union’s long-term program, Le Toux found himself in Vancouver as a member of the Whitecaps. The story of Le Toux’s Philly exit was, in hindsight, the beginning of the end of Peter Nowak’s tenure as coach.
At the time, it was difficult to fathom why a team going into their third MLS season would push a proven performer out of the door in such a publicly sordid manner. Le Toux was a Philadelphia fan favorite for the same reasons Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers have been. He worked hard and he produced. To trade him to Vancouver (and before that, send him on trial to Bolton in an effort to sell him) seemed shockingly callous.
There was no reason to believe that Le Toux wouldn’t settle in nicely with the Whitecaps and feature in their attack, at least for 2012. Despite a large collection of forwards, Le Toux’s abilities make him versatile enough to move around the offensive lineup. Other options available to Vancouver head coach Martin Rennie, like rookie Darren Mattocks and the inconsistent Eric Hassli, hardly seemed better. Le Toux started nearly all of Vancouver’s games (18) through the first half of the MLS season.
Then, in a move that left jaws strewn across floors everywhere, the Whitecaps traded their new acquisition to New York for a speedy winger (Dane Richards) and allocation money.
Much like Dwayne De Rosario during his itinerant 2011, Sebastien Le Toux now finds himself on a third different team in the span of one calendar year. Why? What is it about Le Toux that made him expendable to not just one team, but two?
Let's start with the obvious. Le Toux’s contract is running out, and his salary demands are not small. That the variable was mostly lost in Philly saga, in part because of Le Toux’s popularity among the fans, but was highlighted more with the move to New York and a second address change in such a short period.
Richards for Le Toux isn’t a fair trade player-for-player, but both the Union and the Whitecaps received allocation dollars in return for Le Toux (in the case of the Union, that’s all they got in return). They subsequently used that cap relief to sign sought after targets in Bakary Soumare (Philadelphia) and Kenny Miller (Vancouver), indicating that moving Le Toux had less to do with this abilities and fit within the team as it did with his value on the MLS market. Le Toux’s abilities – to score and set up goals affecting the team’s place in the table – did not outweigh his worth as commodity.
It’s the second year in a row a highly talented player has found himself traded more than once because of a unique combination of factors. De Rosario, an all-time MLS great in most books, was traded by his hometown team – then traded again – before putting together his League MVP season with DC United. Like Le Toux, De Rosario’s contract situation help dictate the reasons for his trade (De Rosario had a club option year remaining, but was highly paid and due for a new contract shortly). De Rosario, once it became clear that Toronto needed to “start over” and that the relationship had turned sour, was no longer valued as a marquee player for TFC.
Both are rare MLS players. They're good enough to be desired by multiple teams – teams willing to giving up something significant for them. At the same time, their contract situation puts them in the precarious situation. The biggest names are generally untradeable, mostly because their talent is matched by their marketing value.
Le Toux and De Rosario aren’t on the level of the Donovans, Henrys, and Beckhams of the world in some ways, but they’re each influential enough when on the field to be coveted. They can be moved exactly because they aren’t transcendent superstars. When the opportunity comes along to turn them into a bag full of allocation money and/or a complimentary piece or two presents itself, teams are willing to take it.
De Rosario seems to have found a home. He has a new contract and a prominent place in an up-and-coming team, making the idea that he could be traded again almost impossible to conceive. Perhaps the only thing Le Toux knows is that the New York Red Bulls want him to contribute now, as they push ever-harder for their first trophy with the clock ticking on Thierry Henry’s career. Le Toux doesn’t have a new contract, and there has been no mention of negotiations. It would seem unlikely he would be moved again this season, so he has the relative comfort of knowing he'll be in a Red Bulls uniform for the rest of 2012. What an odd situation for an elite MLS player.
Le Toux, as well as De Rosario, is an MLS star through and through. They made their names here, proving their worth as quality offensive players with highly sought after skill sets but lesser profiles beyond the League itself. That gives them a special kind of value, as much commodity as contributor. It also means they might not be in once place for very long.
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