Kerith Gabriel: Le Toux's departure from Union is purely a business transaction

Posted: February 01, 2012

PURPLE SHOES.

It's how I'll remember Sebastien Le Toux.

Not necessarily the shoes, but the story that accompanied them.

Le Toux, who announced, via Twitter, before the Union did yesterday morning that he was headed to Vancouver - later to be learned for allocation money - told me the following story once about his trademark purple cleats.

Just before a match during the club's inaugural season, Le Toux was in the locker room lacing up his boots, a fresh pair of purple Nike Mercurial Vapors, when Union manager Peter Nowak looked at his choice of footwear, bewildered.

"What do you think you are doing wearing those shoes?" Le Toux said Nowak asked. "He told me to change them. But I told him, 'Coach, I don't have any other shoes to wear.' After a while, he gave in, but he told me, 'You can wear them today, but after this game, don't let me see you wearing those again.' "

That match was the Union's first home game, against D.C. United at Lincoln Financial Field.

And in those purple shoes, Le Toux scored a hat trick, not only giving the Union its first win but staked a claim in securing for himself what he would be called repeatedly leading up to yesterday's sale: the face of the franchise.

"After the game, [Nowak] came up to me and gave be a big hug," Le Toux recalled. "Then he joked, 'If you are going to score like that, you can wear those shoes anytime you want.' "

In cleats that spanned a variety of colors, Le Toux became the club's most prolific scorer in its short history, scoring 25 goals and adding 20 assists. He scored many big goals, perhaps none more important than one against Toronto FC at home last season that secured the Union its first playoff berth.

All good things. But we all know what they say about good things.

The exodus of Le Toux has caused Union fans to wonder - if not panic - about a team yet to play its first preseason match of 2012. I even saw one fan tweet that the team was "doomed."

Stop it.

This offseason, the team made a number of acquisitions, ones that cost money. And without having to ask ownership for more money how does an organization acquire funds?

By selling assets.

That's what the Union did. And in doing so, it was able to announce it holds the contract rights to Roger Torres, a younger, talented asset who has the propensity to become a big name instead of a second-half super sub. In the offseason, the club picked up Costa Rican international Josue Martinez, has Jack McInerney a year older and wiser, has Danny Mwanga training with Aston Villa, a top English Premier Club, and is days away from announcing Lionard Pajoy.

Plus, this move allows the club to recognize other players, namely defender Sheanon Williams, whom Nowak brought up during his 30-minute teleconference with the media yesterday. Williams, the Union's biggest workhorse behind Le Toux was paid $42,000 last season, the league minimum.

"We are building the club with a team concept," Nowak said. "It's not about one player, it's about the future. I think in the past 2 years we built a good foundation, and I think it's important to keep our philosophy."

Could Le Toux argue with this philosophy?

He knows that when the Union held down top spot in MLS' Eastern Conference for a third of last season, it was done on the backs of a stingy defense and an offense devoid of any spark, despite the addition of Carlos Ruiz to the roster. He knows that despite ending last season with 11 goals and nine assists, he still went nine games before scoring (off a penalty kick) and into September before scoring in the run of play. Deep down, Le Toux knew he wasn't going to wear the Union's signal blue and gold forever, the same way he wasn't in the green and blue of Seattle forever. He knew all these things, but at this point, it's a devout, but upset Union fan base that doesn't want to accept it.

"We have to understand that soccer is completely different from any of the other four sports in this country," Nowak said. "We have to accept that this is a global sport . . . there aren't long-term local heroes and we have never made it a secret our intention to build the franchise around the whole team. We strongly believe a championship team is not when you have the best player; the championship team is when you have the best unit playing together as a team and that's just the philosophy behind [this decision]."

We'll all see Sebastien Le Toux in his purple shoes again, maybe as soon as March 31 when Vancouver visits PPL Park.

But it won't be in a Union uniform.

It's unfortunate, but, more important, it's business.


Send email to gabrielk@phillynews.com.

Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sprtswtr.

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