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?

Union-Rapids 5 things: Clash of conference leaders

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Union-Rapids 5 things: Clash of conference leaders

Union vs. Colorado Rapids
9 p.m. on TCN

From one rough road town to another, the Union (5-3-4) look to continue their six-game unbeaten streak in a battle of conference leaders when they visit Zac MacMath and the Western Conference-leading Colorado Rapids (8-2-3) Saturday night (9 p.m./TCN) at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. 

Here are five things to know:

1. Battle of conference titans
What may have seemed like an impossibility late last season is reality in 2016. The Rapids and Union, who combined for 74 total points last season (both conference leaders finished with 60), are leading their conferences at the quarter mark of the season.

“The table doesn’t lie,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “[Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni] has done a heck of job with his team. You don’t want to get too ahead of yourself, but it’s first place in the East vs. first play in the West, so there’s something more there.”

Curtin also mentioned a little extra buzz, considering where the two teams are located. It isn’t just a road game in May for the Union, it’s a chance to prove themselves against the league’s best.

“We’re both in decent form and they are very good at home, so it’ll be a real challenge for our guys,” Curtin said. “It’s not just another game, that’s for sure. You want to test yourself against top teams and they are the top team in the league right now.”

2. Yaro’s shoulder
Just 45 minutes into Wednesday’s match, Union central defender Josh Yaro needed to leave the game with a shoulder injury. The Union held their breath. 

“He can’t really give an answer whether it did pop out or not, but our staff didn’t have to put it back in,” said Curtin, who mentioned Yaro’s history of shoulder separations. “Sounds like it’s sore and it hurts, but not something that will prevent him from playing. We’ll assess where he’s at.”

If Yaro can’t go against the Rapids, the Union will be in good hands. Ken Tribbett will step in next to Richie Marquez, just like he did Wednesday by contributing a goal and assist. 

“Credit to our depth at center back,” Curtin said. “Ken Tribbett comes in and does a good job.”

3. Rapids riding success
There are two standout reasons for the Rapids' incredible success to start the 2016 season – incredible defense and league-best home record. 

“They don’t have a lot of big names,” Curtin said. “They’re doing it with some guys that’ve been in and out of other teams and on different rosters in MLS. But Pablo’s getting the most out of his group right now and they’re playing some good soccer.”

Good soccer may be an understatement. The Rapids have only allowed a league-best nine goals in 13 games and are 6-0-0 at home. 

“They know how to win the 1-0 game,” Curtin said. “And they can also keep better possession and can beat you in a couple of different ways.”

Helping the Union will be the absence of two of the Rapids' higher-priced stars, Jermaine Jones and Shkelzen Gashi, who are away on international duty.

“It helps us, for sure,” Curtin said. “Jermaine is a winner. He’s a driving force for the way they press, get after you, compete and fight. Jermaine has been their leader. For him not to be there is fortunate for us.” 

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Each game the uber-talented Ilsinho remains sidelined with an injury, the more his legend grows. And while he’s only expected to, at most, make a brief appearance this weekend, there’s still a chance the Brazilian makes an impact. “He’ll be available for selection this weekend,” Curtin said. “How long he can go is up in the air. Do you want to start him in altitude, when he hasn’t been in a match in a little while? It’s a tough decision. I’m tempted because he’s that talented.”

Rapids: MacMath, the former Union goalkeeper, started 102 games for the club before moving on to the Rapids in 2015. Now, he’s leading the league in goals-against average with 0.69 and seems to have turned the corner as one of the premier goalkeepers in MLS. But is MacMath excited about facing his former club? “It’ll be weird leading up to it, but once the whistle blows it’s just a normal game,” he said. “I’m trying to keep the shutout at home.”

5. This and that
• Union backup goalkeeper Matt Jones left the team in Colorado this week to witness the birth of his first-born child, Jackson. Curtin couldn’t have been happier. “There’s things a lot bigger than soccer and I’m a believer in family first,” the manager said.

• Union midfield catalyst, Vincent Nogueira, is continuing his progress from an oblique injury that saw him miss the last two games and will very likely keep him out for Saturday. “He’s been running,” Curtin said. “We’re better with the ball when Vincent is on the field. He’s great in possession. It’ll be close for Vincent for this weekend. He’s moving along, getting better.” 

• The Union are 1-3-4 all time against the Rapids and 1-1-1 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. 

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Big test for Jerad Eickhoff

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Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Big test for Jerad Eickhoff

Phillies (26-22) at Cubs (32-14)
2:20 p.m. on CSN

After Friday’s 6-2 loss to the MLB-best Chicago Cubs, Jerad Eickhoff and the Phillies look to rebound against Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs’ potent offense.

1. Slowing down the Cubs
How can the Phillies slow down one of the deepest offenses in the game?

Well, they may not be able to — not many teams have.

As the Phillies learned Friday, when the Cubs hit it out of the park, they are almost unbeatable. As a team, the Cubs have hit 52 home runs in 45 games this season and are 22-5 when they hit a home run. That’s only 16 games without a homer and the Cubs are 7-9 in those games.

For the Phillies to have a chance in this series, the pitching staff must limit the long balls. 

2. Big test for Eickhoff
And it is Eickhoff’s job to do just that Saturday afternoon — to contain the Cubs.

Eickhoff’s inconsistencies have been well documented and Saturday is his biggest test yet. In his last five starts, Eickhoff has gone at least six innings and has allowed three runs or fewer in four of those starts, including a seven shutout innings his last time out against the Atlanta Braves.

Eickhoff and the Phillies would be thrilled with a start like that Saturday. 

3. Something’s gotta give
Lefties have had the better of the right-handed Eickhoff this season, hitting .302 against him with an OPS of .844, .200 points higher than his numbers against righties.

Most of the Cubs’ power bats are right-handed, with the exception of Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward. Lucky for Eickhoff, right? Not so fast.

Of the Cubs’ 52 home runs this season, 41 have come against right-handed pitchers. Something’s got to give.

4. What 5th starter?
The Phillies draw the Cubs’ fifth starter, Kyle Hendricks, Saturday. However, Hendricks might just be the best back-end pitcher in baseball this year.

Boasting a 3.30 ERA, Hendricks holds opponents to just a .218 batting average and is equally effective against both righties and lefties. Hendricks doesn’t have blazing speed on his pitches — his fastball routinely tops out at 89 mph — but what he lacks in velocity, he makes up for in pinpoint precision. The Phillies will have their work cut out for them.

5. This and that
• Hendricks tossed 6⅔ innings in his only career start against the Phillies, giving up three runs on four hits — three of which were doubles. 

• Eickhoff has one career start against Chicago, a no-decision. Eickhoff went seven strong innings, giving up just one run on three hits with eight strikeouts. 

• The Phillies have 144 RBIs on the season — the Cubs had 129 in April alone. 

• Chicago has two of the top three hitters in the league in on-base percentage in Ben Zobrist (.453) and Dexter Fowler (.436). The two sandwich Odubel Herrera, who has a .440 OBP.

MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

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MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor started serving his suspension Friday for punching Toronto's Jose Bautista after the penalty was reduced from eight to seven games.

Odor was out of the lineup for the series opener against Pittsburgh. He will be eligible to return June 4 when Texas is home against Seattle.

Bautista was suspended one game, and he was serving that Friday, when the penalty was upheld a day after his appeal was heard.

The Rangers promoted former top prospect Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock, and he was in the lineup against the Pirates as the leadoff hitter playing second base. Odor had been leading off.

Odor's penalty was cut by Major League Baseball special assistant John McHale Jr. The appeal over Odor's role in a May 15 brawl between the Rangers and Blue Jays was heard Tuesday. The league disciplined 14 players and staff over the melee in Arlington (see full story).

Red Sox: Struggling RHP Clay Buchholz to bullpen
TORONTO -- Struggling Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz is being moved to the bullpen and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will take Buchholz's spot in the rotation, starting Tuesday at Baltimore.

Buchholz is 2-5 with a 6.35 ERA in 10 starts and has allowed five earned runs or more six times. He gave up season-highs of six runs and three home runs in Thursday's 8-2 loss to Colorado.

Rodriguez (right knee) is on the 15-day DL has not pitched for the Red Sox this season. He's 0-3 with a 3.54 ERA in five rehab starts at Triple-A Pawtucket. He went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA as a rookie in 2015.

Buchholz has made two career relief appearances, one in his rookie season in 2007 and another in 2008.

Manager John Farrell said Buchholz will make multi-inning appearances in order to remain stretched out and could return to the rotation later in the season.