Exit Interview: Sebastien Le Toux Rips Union, Nowak... So Now What?

Exit Interview: Sebastien Le Toux Rips Union, Nowak... So Now What?

Already enduring possibly the toughest PR day of their young existence after it was announced they had traded Sebastien Le Toux to the Vancouver Whitecaps for allocation money, the Philadelphia Union were hit with a late night bombshell dropped by the Frenchman himself.

Chris Vito may approach a Delco Times Sports traffic record as the local, national, and international soccer communities flock to his exclusive interview with a sad and clearly angry Le Toux. If you were already among the Union fans upset with the club for trading Le Toux within the MLS, that anger will likely increase exponentially with every quotation from the Frenchman, right down to his final shot at manager Peter Nowak. In the interview, he describes being pushed to Bolton because the Union wanted money, which they quickly got from Vancouver when the Bolton trial went south.

The entire piece is a stinging indictment of a team previously held on a pedestal by its fans, and no one is in Le Toux's crosshairs more than Nowak.

We've spent much of the day trying to make sense of the decision to trade Le Toux and hoping that the next announcements made by the Union would show us this was part of a linear decision, a set of domino moves that would see the team get closer to a championship while drawing fans even closer. An announcement that the Union had secured Roger Torres' full transfer from America de Cali was one step in that direction.

But while Le Toux's account of his treatment won't derail the Union's plans, it makes a bitter pill even harder to swallow for fans who have supported Le Toux nearly as long as they have the team itself.

Clearly, his expressed opinions are rooted in the emotion of being traded against his will and show only one side of a potentially complicated series of contract discussions and player movement scenarios. Le Toux's public reaction to being traded to Vancouver seems to contrast his modest, positive, mostly unremarkable public reaction regarding his mid-January Bolton trial. Had it gone well and Bolton acquired him, would we ever have heard anything but glowing reviews of his time in Chester under Nowak?

While that huge grain of salt must be taken into account, the Union don't deny what Le Toux points out as the underlying reason for what he paints as the team's reason for trying to move him—money.

In a team press release, Nowak had this to say: "While this decision wasn't easy, we are confident that the allocation money we receive will provide the flexibility for us to compile the best possible roster for 2012 and beyond."

We're not expert in the intricacies of MLS finances, and we have no knowledge of the Union's cash flow situation, so we won't get too far into those weeds just yet. We also don't know the full story of Le Toux's short-lived trial at Bolton, nor his desire to be there in the first place. We only know that shortly after his return without a transfer arranged, the Union traded him to Vancouver, stating they did so in the best interests of the club.

No matter what, saying goodbye to Le Toux was going to be hard. The Bolton transfer would have been easiest for all parties involved. Most Union fans appeared capable of wishing him well, understanding that the Premier League is arguably the highest level to which a player can aspire. Hearing that Seba had returned from Bolton without a deal in place gave some comfort that #9 would be patrolling the field at high speeds for the coming season, perhaps beyond.

A trade within the MLS struck a different chord among fans, the apparent vocal majority of which could not see the upside of dealing a beloved player for allocation money. Others described the benefits of having allocation money in a salary capped league, and that after the coming season, Le Toux may have left for nothing (although according to Le Toux's words, that may not be the case). Still others pointed out that fans' perceptions of Le Toux may have exceeded his actual impact on games.

No matter what your viewpoint, the hope was that whatever player or players the allocation money bought would soften the blow by adding even more talent and stability to the team.

That is still the hope, because no matter how shaken some fans' confidences are in the club and Nowak right now, the reality is that Le Toux is gone. His parting words will hurt the team in the public light, sending ripples of worry about future such bloody departures and leaving the spectre of money concerns. But like all teams in all towns, winning can go a long way toward healing the wounds of losing fan-favorite players, and more quickly than we might like to admit.

Halfway through the first season after the Flyers traded away two cornerstone players against their wishes and those of many season ticket holders, there aren't many complaints about those deals. Meanwhile, the Eagles brought in new talent without subtracting a fan favorite in the same off-season and couldn't put it together on the field, and fans are calling for heads from the owners box to the special teams (and still citing the loss of Brian Dawkins two seasons ago).

Either way, it's clear that this off-season still has some considerable headlines coming, likely starting tomorrow as the media gather at training.

Union fans, where do you find your loyalties this morning? Have Le Toux's words left you feeling as burned as he is, or do you trust that the team is simply doing what is in its best interests, which won't always be taking the easy road?

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

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Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

Bryce Harper is out of the Nationals' lineup Tuesday night after being hit in the knee by a Jeremy Hellickson pitch on Memorial Day.

Big break for the Phils considering Harper has hit .346 against them with three doubles, 11 home runs, 23 RBIs and 21 walks in his last 104 plate appearances against them.

It's an equally big break for Aaron Nola, against whom Harper is 6 for 10 with two homers (see game notes).

For the Phillies, Ryan Howard gets the start at first base against another right-hander, Washington's Joe Ross. Phillies fans are clamoring for more playing time for Tommy Joseph, but starting Howard against Ross does make some sense given how much better lefties have been against him (.295 BA) than righties (.209). Ross throws a ton of sinkers and sliders which make it tough on same-handed hitters.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Cameron Rupp, C
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Tyler Goeddel, LF
7. David Lough, RF
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Aaron Nola, P

And for the Nationals:

1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Jayson Werth, RF
3. Daniel Murphy, 2B
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
5. Clint Robinson, LF
6. Anthony Rendon, 3B
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Danny Espinosa, SS
9. Joe Ross, P

The Ryan Howard saga is hard to watch

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The Ryan Howard saga is hard to watch

It's difficult to feel sorry for a professional athlete who will have earned nearly $200 million in salary before his playing career ends at 37 years old. It's hard, but Ryan Howard is doing an outstanding job of making me feel bad anyway.

The statistics speak for themselves. As the calendar rolls over to June, Howard is batting .157 with more than twice as many strikeouts (52) as base hits (22). Debate rages as to whether the Phillies should hang on to the three-time All-Star for locker-room morale -- perhaps also in the desperate hopes they can still trade him -- or if they should just put The Big Piece out of his misery with an outright release.

There's no satisfying answer here. All I can say is I wish for it to be over.

Howard's decline has been one of the saddest to watch in recent Philly sports memory. From 2005 through 2011, he was the heart of the Phillies' order, belting 284 home runs and driving in 859 runs in six-and-a-half seasons, during the most successful run in franchise history. In 2016, Howard's bat can barely catch up to the ball, let alone knock it out of the infield.

Largely through no fault of his own. Howard has never been the same since rupturing his Achilles on the final at bat of the 2011 season. Sure, there were signs he was slowing down or that the rest of the league was catching up to him even then, averaging 32 homers between the '10-'11 seasons compared to 49.5 over '06-'09 -- but he was still hitting the ball at that point.

Since the injury, Howard's power hasn't necessarily dipped dramatically. It's his ability to hit the ball, period. From '04 to '11, he was a .275 hitter. After the injury, he's batting .226. This season has been especially trying, with the month of May bordering on the historic.

Of course, it's not news Howard's career was derailed by injuries. It's no secret he's been particularly awful this season. It's just harder than ever to watch.

Just how ineffective has Howard been in 2016? In retrospect, maybe the numbers don't quite do the struggle justice. Obviously, he isn't hitting, and he's striking out as frequently as ever. What's new this year is the percentage of fly balls that don't even make it out of the infield -- 12 percent, which is twice as high as any season in 13 Major League seasons.

What does it mean exactly? Howard's swing is so jacked right now that even when he does make contact, even when he doesn't hit a ball into the defensive shift, one in 10 times is essentially a harmless pop-up.

To his credit, Howard also has eight home runs this season, some of which have been big at bats or game-winners. He's also been hailed as a positive influence and leader in the clubhouse, an example this young group of Phillies can certainly benefit from.

Nor do I believe Howard really needs anybody to feel bad for him. He's worked hard and accomplished more than most ever will at his profession, and as a result is able to provide for his family and generations beyond. He's built a great legacy both on the baseball diamond, but one that no doubt extends beyond athletic prowess.

Yet none of that changes the fact that Howard's play has deteriorated to the point where he's become a black hole in the Phillies' lineup. It pains me to say that, to use this platform to write it -- just not as much as it pains me to watch it happening.

I'd love nothing more than for Howard to go on a tear and end his final season with the Phillies with head held high. It's the ending a legend like him deserves. Or better yet, improve his production to a level where a contender in the American League would sign Howard and give him one last crack at postseason baseball.

But short of that, I'd love nothing more for it to all be over, to not have to watch one of the great Phillies sluggers flail away every other or third day, or less as it soon may come to. It's not a matter of debate as to when or how that should happen. The sooner, the better.

10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

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10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

The Eagles wrapped up their Tuesday practice just before 12:30 p.m. under a hot summer-like sun.

Tuesday was the first day of four in the team’s final week of OTAs, which are voluntary. The mandatory minicamp starts next Tuesday and runs through next Thursday.

That’s when we might see Fletcher Cox and Darren Sproles, both of whom have been staying away from the team during the voluntary period. And that’s where we’ll start with today’s 10 observations:

1. With Cox still out, Mike Martin was again working with the first team at defensive tackle next to Bennie Logan, as he was last week. Two weeks ago, Taylor Hart was next to Logan at tackle. Martin was a depth piece in Tennessee and that’s how he’ll fit with the Eagles once Cox comes back.

Martin was also involved in the first little scuffle we’ve seen during these spring practices. Nothing too exciting … just a little shoving with left guard Allen Barbre.

2. Sproles is still out, but Ryan Mathews returned. Mathews missed the last practice opened to the media with an illness but participated Tuesday. The interesting thing was that Mathews didn’t get all the first-team reps. In fact, Kenjon Barner actually opened the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions of practice with the first team.

It’s early, but Barner has looked pretty good this spring. It’ll be interesting to see if he fits with the team. He’s ahead of rookie Wendell Smallwood now, but would the team really elect to keep him over a fifth-round pick? Or will the team be OK keeping four running backs again?

Another note: Rueben Randle (gallbladder surgery) is still out.

3. We saw a little trickery from Doug Pederson’s offense on Tuesday against no defense. First, Chase Daniel threw a lateral screen to Josh Huff, who threw down the right to Smallwood. Then, Carson Wentz threw a lateral pass to Nelson Agholor and then Wentz ran a route down the left sideline, but Agholor overthrew him.

Maybe the trick plays are just way to keep practice lighter, but it might also mean the offense is moving along nicely and installing more and more of the playbook. It’s a good sign.

4. Wentz was up and down on Tuesday, but his best completion came on a deep pass down the right sideline to wideout Xavier Rush (who is a candidate for best name on the team). Rush wrestled the ball away from corner C.J. Smith, who should know Wentz pretty well. The two played together at North Dakota State.

Meanwhile, Sam Bradford had a shaky day, throwing several balls that could have been picked off.

5. Again, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks — the two Jim Schwartz guys in the secondary — were working with the first team. On Tuesday, Eric Rowe was the extra corner on the field in the nickel. When Rowe came in, Brooks shifted into the slot. It still looks like Nolan Carroll isn’t yet allowed to practice during team portions.

On the first play of 11 on 11s, Brooks broke up a pass from Bradford that was then picked off by Rodney McLeod and taken the other way. Not a good throw from Bradford, but Brooks was aggressive and jumped it.

6. Down by the goal line during the team period, Malcolm Jenkins made a nice play to get in front of a pass, but couldn’t pick it off. He’s in midseason form. Jenkins had a great year in 2015, but really struggled to intercept balls that he had in his hands.

7. Jordan Hicks didn’t participate in 7 on 7s or 11 on 11s Tuesday. Two weeks ago, he sat out with tightness in his legs, but returned last week. On Tuesday, with Hicks watching, Najee Goode filled in at first-team MIKE, flanked by Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks.

8. Chase Daniel overthrew two balls badly within a few plays during the 11-on-11 drills, but then capped off a drive by dropping a ball into the hands of wideout Paul Turner in the back of the end zone. Decent day for Daniel.

9. The Eagles ran some scout team looks for the first time (that we’ve seen) on Tuesday. Daniel ran the scout team, which makes sense. Normally, it would be the third-string quarterback, but Wentz probably has plenty on his plate. Not sure whom the offense was mimicking, but the two pinnies were Nos. 88 and 82. Perhaps the Cowboys?

10. At one point on Tuesday, the offense started to use a tempo offense, giving everyone in attendance flashbacks to Chip. Well, not exactly. The up-tempo didn’t last long and it did produce the ugliest Wentz pass since he’s been with the team.

We are seeing plenty of interesting looks from the Eagles. At times they’ve been using formations with three tight ends. And they even showed some designed quarterback runs on Tuesday. The progression and complexity of this offense is starting to be revealed by these practices, and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Stupid Observation of the Day: Punter Donnie Jones has begun to wear a pretty sweet white and blue bucket hat at practice when he’s not wearing his helmet. Only a punter could get away with this. Here, you can see him in the background from last week.