WAYNE, Pa. -- For the first official time since being re-acquired in early December, Sebastien Le Toux practiced with the Union at YSC Sports on Monday. The sight brought a sense of normalcy and stability back to a club that desperately needed it following a nightmarish 2012.
For the 29-year-old fan favorite, being back in the Union blue didn’t just look right, it felt right.
“Part of me was here, even when I left,” said Le Toux, who was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps for allocation money but finished the year with the New York Red Bulls. “It’s nice and feels great to be back. I’m enjoying the time back, I missed it last year. It has been great to catch up with everybody, I’m ready to start the preseason.”
Now living in Chadds Ford, Pa., Le Toux was originally heartbroken to be traded away from the place he considered home. But absence does funny things and Le Toux’s reunion with the club and fans he adores has been a positive one.
“It’s been wonderful,” said Le Toux, who ranks as the Union's all-time leading goal scorer with 25. “I haven’t heard anything negative. Anyone who knows soccer in Philadelphia and knows the Union, they are very nice to me every time I’m out. They welcome me back. It’s the same thing for me, I missed the fans a lot and I’m extremely happy to be back here wearing a Union jersey.”
Off the field, Le Toux fits in perfectly. On the field could be a different story. With the emergence of Jack McInerney, Antoine Hoppenot and steady play of Danny Cruz, and along with the offseason acquisition of Conor Casey, coach John Hackworth has plenty of legitimate options up front. Throw in young up-and-coming talents like Chandler Hoffman, Cristhian Hernandez and a multitude of forward draft selections -- training camp and preseason could be a crowded battle for position in Hackworth’s 4-3-3.
“The coaches put together some good fights at each position,” said Le Toux. “We’re going to practice hard and work every day to try and make our place on the team. Players need this type of challenge between each other to make sure that every time the team gets the best players out there.”
Regardless of the Union’s 2013 forward numbers, Le Toux does expect to start as a striker instead of in the midfield, like he played in New York. He also expects to regain the same success he had in 2010 and 2011, when he scored double-digit goals both seasons.
“I think I’ll play as a forward,” said Le Toux. “It depends on which formation we’re going to play and what the coaching staff wants us to play. I’m sure we’re going to try different things in the preseason and in games. It depends on how we play as a team and who is going to be healthy. You never know what can happen in the preseason, but we have a plan and we’re working on it. I’m sure I’m going to be used as a forward and Jack [McInerney] will be the other forward. I don’t know where, but I’m going to play just like I used to play here before.”
Unable to confirm his formation, tactics or roster this early in the preseason, Hackworth noted that flexibility could see Le Toux and others in a plethora of positions.
“We want to develop a team that’s flexible and take advantage of our opponents tactically, so I don’t think we’ll ever be totally set,” said the coach. “I think you’ll see a reoccurring theme where we will have good mobility and try to play an attacking possession style built on a good passing game where we try to overload one side or the other and take advantage of matchups.”
Can't Teach Height
When the Union signed 6-foot-4 striker Aaron Wheeler out of Finland’s FC KooTeePee on Saturday, it was crystal clear what Hackworth was looking for.
“I’ve heard some things about that,” Wheeler said with regards to the Union’s height problem last season. “I’m just happy to come in and have an opportunity to help in whatever way possible. If they need me for set pieces but if they just need a great practice player, I’m here to contribute in whichever way I can.”
With Casey leading the Union's forward group at 6-foot-1 and Bakary Soumare rounding out the Union back line at 6-foot-4, there is some new height hitting the team’s roster. However, in between those two players isn’t much length -- a fact that makes Wheeler an interesting dynamic.
“My height,” said Wheeler when asked to describe what makes him dangerous. “My athleticism. Everyone says I’m fast for a big guy but I just like to say I’m fast, not categorized as a big guy or whatever. I think my awareness and I play hard. I do whatever I can for the team.”
Union acquire Mendoza
The Union have acquired 22-year-old midfielder Alex Mendoza from Mexico City-based soccer club Pumas, the team announced on Thursday.
A former Harrisburg City Islanders academy product and Harrisburg native, the 5-foot-9 Mendoza joined Pumas in 2009 and spent three years with the club before his move home.
Mendoza, a graduate of Red Land High School, is a dual citizen of Mexico and the US.