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?