Sebastien Le Toux -- The Perfect Major League Soccer Player

Sebastien Le Toux -- The Perfect Major League Soccer Player

Sebastien Le Toux has a strong connection to Philadelphia Union fans. (AP Photo)

Before being selected by the Union in the 2009 MLS Expansion Draft, Sebastien Le Toux was an MLS also-ran. His biggest claim to fame at the point was that he was the first-ever player signed by the Seattle Sounders.

Now, he's a fan favorite, an integral part of a team on an upward path, and the only player on the Union roster who played in the team's inaugural game just over three years ago (even that includes a year away). (Edit: As a commenter pointed out, Roger Torres played in that game too. But it's hard to remember he's still on the team now)

Sebastien Le Toux is all of those things. He's also the ideal Major League Soccer player.

MLS is in a strange sort of limbo when it comes to the soccer world as a whole. In nearly 20 years of existence, it has certainly graduated from the novelty league it once was. But if you asked every player under the age of 30 -- and could guarantee an honest answer -- nearly every one of them pictures MLS as a stepping stone to Europe.

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Now, I'm not saying Sebastien Le Toux doesn't dream bigger than PPL Park. Of course he does. If he didn't, I'd be concerned. He even spent a week training with then-English Premier League side Bolton Wanderers in January, 2012, (something that didn't seem to sit well with manager and professional dream-killer Peter Nowak and led to his being traded a month later).

But, from all accounts, Le Toux is exceedingly happy in Philadelphia. He never wanted to leave, always pined to return, and -- according to an article just after his departure in 2012 by Chris Vito of the Delco Times -- was ready to sign any contract the team placed in front of him. He doesn't have an agent and even said it was the Union who pushed him to try out at Bolton, presumably because they were hoping for a big transfer pay-day.

It had gotten to the point where I said to them, to Nick, to Peter, to everyone, ‘Just give me a contract and I will sign it,’” said Le Toux, who spoke exclusively with the Daily Times. “I wanted to stay in Philly. I didn’t care about the money."

With Nowak gone, the bad blood seems to be in the past. When John Hackworth worked to bring Le Toux back from New York, it was a move I whole-heartedly agreed with (strangely, it was also a move that was met with LOTS of resistance among the Union's vocal online fanbase). In my eyes, even if Le Toux did nothing but provide an occasional bench spark this season, bringing him back was a good-will nod toward the fans from a team that was struggling with its image post-Peter.

Needless to say, Le Toux has done far more than provide an occasional bench spark.

When he returned, many wondered where he'd fit in with the team going all-in with Jack McInerney up front. That was because Le Toux was a forward in his first two years here. Period. End story. Any time he tried to play wider, or play as an attacking midfielder, you only knew he was still on the field because of his pink shoes.

For some reason, that has changed drastically in 2013. Maybe it's his 29-year-old veteran coming out. Maybe it's having McInerney and Conor Casey up front instead of Danny Mwanga and Alejandro Moreno (all due respect, Ale). Maybe it's Hackworth's system. Maybe it's actually playing with the same players every week -- something that never happened under Nowak.

Le Toux leads the league with 12 assists, and is the biggest reason McInerney is having a breakout/All-Star/national-team call-up season while Casey is a leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.

None of that in and of itself is why Le Toux is the ideal MLS player. But in combination, it's why the Union would be silly to let him go, even if his on-field skills diminish in the year's to come.

He's not dreaming of greener pastures. He's not trying to copyright his goal celebrations. And he legitimately seems to enjoy serving in the perfect pass more than scoring a goal -- like this one, this one, this one, and ESPECIALLY this one:

[nbcsports_video src=http://p.mlssoccer.com/SAu5a/video/1724382/mls_2013-05-11-153322.640hq.mp4 service=mlssoccer width=590 height=332]

Those who have met him -- and there are many ( I have heard countless "I saw Le Toux last night" stories) -- vouch that he is a genuine, down-to-earth man who loves his adopted city and shares a laugh if you mimic his thick French accent.

He sits behind the now-invisible Kleberson and Jeff Parke as the third-highest-paid Union player at $200,000 (fourth-highest if you count Carlos Valdes). It would be a bargain at twice the price (maybe three times, considering Kleberson makes half a million bucks to ride the pine).

Sebastien Le Toux was the first player to ever sign a Union contract. In a perfect world, he should never again have to beg for one from the the blue and gold.

LATER THIS WEEK: The English Premier League kicks off Saturday. We'll have a handy way for any Philly sports fan to pick a team to follow. Horrible neck tattoos encouraged, but not required.

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook -- confirmed on review -- wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay two years ago.

Cook kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:38 -- two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game -- all on the road.

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott got the Dallas rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey (see full recap).

Steelers hold off Chiefs to set up rematch with Pats in AFC title game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Le'Veon Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Chris Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals?

Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers' 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn't play.

Spencer Ware's 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher -- the first overall selection in the 2013 draft -- was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

The Steelers became first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh's answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by linebacker Justin Houston. That led to Boswell's second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger's throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry -- burned for 26 yards on the previously play -- picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell's fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh's first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

Kansas City's Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150 (see full recap).

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

NEW YORK -- James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game (see full recap).

DeRozan leads Raptors past Knicks
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the Toronto Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the New York Knicks 116-101 on Sunday.

DeRozan also had five rebounds and five assists before coming out late in the third quarter.

The Raptors improved to 27-13, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter. They led by 38 points in the third in winning their third straight game overall and fifth in a row against the Knicks.

DeMarre Carroll added 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 18 points, Justin Holiday had 17, and Derrick Rose added 16. The Knicks are 2-10 in their last 12 to drop to 18-23 (see full recap).

Hawks stay hot by beating Bucks    
ATLANTA -- Kent Bazemore scored 24 points, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-98 on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and was a tough matchup in the paint for Milwaukee, which dropped 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Hawks in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Bucks have dropped three of five.

Dunleavy, in his second game since arriving in a trade last week with Cleveland, had his first 20-point performance since a first-round playoff game for Chicago on April 30, 2015.

Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in eight games in a breakout season (see full recap)