John Smallwood: Faces of Their Franchises

Sebastien Le Toux, shown in 2010, returns to the Union as the club's all-time leading scorer with 25 goals and 20 assists.    DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Sebastien Le Toux, shown in 2010, returns to the Union as the club's all-time leading scorer with 25 goals and 20 assists.    DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Musings on Sebastien Le Toux, Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck

Posted: December 09, 2012

A look at the faces of the franchises

In my Small opinion . . .

If Major League Soccer were at the level of the other major sports in Philadelphia, the Union

reacquiring forward Sebastien Le Toux on Thursday would be the equivalent of Cliff Lee

returning to the Phillies, Allen Iverson returning to the Sixers or Jeremiah Trotter re-signing with the

Eagles.

That's how popular the fan-friendly Frenchman was with the crew that shuffled down to the edge of the Delaware River and PPL Park.

Trading Le Toux - the franchise's all-time leading scorer with 25 goals and 20 assists - to Vancouver on Jan. 31 was without question the biggest mistake in the 3-year history of the Union.

His return to PPL Park with Vancouver and then later with the hated New York Red Bulls were two of the lower moments in a campaign highlighted by lows.

I can't say for certain that things would have gone differently, but the Le Toux trade was the beginning of all the bad things that made up the 2012 campaign.

It irritated a fan base that is as committed and reactive as

Eagles and Flyers faithful. It decimated the positive vibe the franchise had built in its first two seasons.

On the pitch, it started the exodus of other popular players like Danny Califf and Danny Mwanga, and left what was already a sleepy attack comatose.

Off the field, it turned the spotlight on the closed-door workings of former manager Peter Nowak and allegations that he made money off player transactions. The Union replaced Nowak with John Hackworth in June.

Ultimately, the Union - which made the playoffs in 2011 - plummeted to a disastrous 10-18-6 and 34 points, fifth worst in the league.

"In our hearts, Sebastien has always been a Union player," said Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz, who, it must be pointed out, approved the original Le Toux trade. "His contributions on the field and in the community while he was in Philadelphia were invaluable.

"We are thrilled to welcome him back and look forward to having him rejoin the club."

Rarely do franchises admit to a huge mistake by doing something to reverse it.

. . . OK, you don't have to like Kobe Bryant, but you have to respect what he's done as a basketball player in the 16-plus years since he went to the NBA directly from Lower Merion High School.

On Wednesday, with 1 minute, 19 seconds left in the second quarter of the Lakers' game against New Orleans, Bryant became just the fifth player in NBA history to eclipse the 30,000-point barrier.

Bryant trails Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), Michael Jordan (32,292) and Chamberlain (31,419) in career NBA points.

If we combined his NBA and American Basketball Association statistics, as many say we should, Julius "Doctor J" Erving would have 30,026 points.

In his first 16 seasons, Bryant has played in 1,169 of a possible 1,264 games. Add 220 playoff games and that's another 2.7 seasons worth of NBA grind, yet 19 games into his 17th season Bryant is averaging 28.0 points and shooting what would be a career-best 49.0 percent.

Bryant, 34, has scored more than 2,000 points in five of the last six 82-game seasons and is on pace this season for 2,296.

Unless Bryant continues at a high level until he's 40, passing Abdul-Jabbar seems unlikely.

If he stays healthy, he will pass Chamberlain this season and Jordan next. Passing Malone will be difficult, but not out of the question.

. . . They say the best transactions are when both parties get what they bargained for.

The Indianapolis Colts didn't trade future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. The Denver Broncos signed him after the Colts released him to make room for their quarterback of the future: 2012 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck.

I doubt either team imagined things would work so well so quickly.

Luck has been everything the Colts hoped for when they jettisoned Manning, the longtime face of the franchise and best player in their history.

With Luck starting from Game 1, Indianapolis, which was 2-14 last season, is 8-4 and holding the top wild-card spot in the AFC.

Luck ranks sixth in the NFL with 3,596 passing yards and has thrown 17 touchdown passes. His high interception total (16) will likely cost him Rookie of the Year honors to dynamic Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, but Indianapolis clearly made the right decision to move to the future.

Neither Manning nor Denver is complaining.

The end of Manning, 36, was greatly exaggerated. Many thought he was finished as an elite quarterback after sitting out all last season because of neck injuries.

Obviously he wasn't.

Manning has started all 13 games this season, and with Thursday's win over Oakland, Denver (10-3) won its ninth straight game and locked up the AFC West.

Individually, Manning has set a Broncos single-season record with 30 touchdown passes - eclipsing former quarterback and current Broncos general manager John Elway, the man who convinced him to come to Denver. Manning threw 30 touchdowns in only five of 13 seasons with the Colts.

His comeback has been astounding.

Currently Manning leads the NFL in passing yards (3,812). He's on pace to throw for 4,000 yards for the 12th time in 14 active seasons.

Manning is second in touchdown passes (Drew Brees has 31) and second in completion percentage (68.3), but San Francisco's Alex Smith - who has thrown fewer than half as many passes - shouldn't count.

The castoff quarterback could end up winning his fifth MVP and second Super Bowl.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: philly.com/Smallwood

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