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?

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”