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= 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.

Taking in return, Ryan White moves on but will always remember Flyers

Taking in return, Ryan White moves on but will always remember Flyers

Ryan White was whisking by to the visiting locker room when he had to stop.
With huge delight, the long-haired forward hugged a Flyers employee in bright orange athletic gear standing outside the laundry room. 
The two exchanged hellos and good wishes before White’s path was impeded again.
None of this was a nuisance. This is what he loved.
“That’s probably the biggest thing I miss here in Philly is the people around the rink are great,” White said late Thursday night inside the Wells Fargo Center. “The guys from the locker room attendants to the security guys to people taking care of my girlfriend and stuff like that. It’s a special place to play and I always felt like I was welcomed here.”
White had just scored his first goal of the 2016-17 season. All offseason, he hoped and planned for the occasion to be in a Flyers sweater. He talked about his endearment for the organization trumping the worth of money elsewhere.
But on Thursday night, he was wearing an Arizona Coyote uniform and, what he called, “putting the final nail in the coffin” of a 5-4 loss for the Flyers.
“It feels good scoring here,” he said.
Not at all how he pictured it.
Playing fourth-line minutes (8:09), White somehow snuck a shot past Steve Mason from a nasty side angle with 4:19 remaining in regulation, making it 5-3 and virtually snuffing another Flyers comeback bid.
“Any time you’re coming back playing your old club, you want to make sure you get a win. … I loved playing as a Flyer, it was a lot of fun playing here,” White said. “Guys over there are a great group of guys, good coaching staff, good people in the organization. It’s just a special place to play.”
It’s where White wanted to be but he holds no ill will towards general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers. Hextall liked and expressed interest in re-signing White, a role-playing fourth-liner, but went out and inked free-agent right winger Dale Weise (four-year, $9.4 million deal), more of a third-line player with similar attributes.
That signaled White’s end with the Flyers after two seasons.
“I think I’d be crazy if I didn’t want to come back here, it just didn’t work out,” White said. “I’m just happy I’ve gotten a chance to play in Phoenix and it’s been pretty good so far.”
White on Wednesday night caught up with former Flyers teammates Radko Gudas and Michal Neuvirth. While with the Flyers, he lived in the same building as the two. They all had dinner and White got to visit Gudas’ baby daughter.
On the ice, White, gritty and physical-minded, made his presence felt. He was penalized in the second period for charging Nick Cousins. He was also called for a delay of game penalty in the final two minutes for closing his hand on the puck. The Flyers scored on the power play, ironically turning White’s goal into the gamer-winner.
“He told me he just wanted the winning goal,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said with a laugh. “So that’s all that counts.”
White enjoyed the rough-and-tough nature against his old friends. 
“All those guys play hard, they know how the game goes,” he said. “I had a little conversation with Gudy last night at dinner and he said, ‘You’re going to be running around out there.’ I figured it would be no other way. You’ve got to expect that coming from those guys, they’re a hard group over there.
“Those guys know how I play and they all play the same way, too, so it was fun.”
He also appreciated seeing the Flyers Heritage Night pregame ceremony honoring the organization’s legends, led by late founder Ed Snider. White kept tabs on the Flyers’ home opener last week when a banner commemorating Snider was raised to the rafters.
“I even heard about the first game coming back, it was pretty emotional in here,” he said. “It was a pretty special time playing here with Mr. Snider around. I think he’ll obviously be forever missed and like I said, it was just special to be a part of it.”
White wasn’t sure what to expect in his return. In the end, he wasn’t surprised.
“It’s funny, I thought maybe coming back here, it would be a little bit different,” White said. “But they’re a pretty welcoming group and it’s nice to be here.”
Even if it’s just for one game.

Rod Brind'Amour relishes night with Eric Lindros, Flyers alumni

Rod Brind'Amour relishes night with Eric Lindros, Flyers alumni

When he was introduced at center ice Thursday night, Rod Brind’Amour, who epitomizes what it meant to be a Flyer perhaps like no other player in franchise history, acknowledged the crowd.
And then the current Carolina assistant coach walked over to former teammate Eric Lindros and hugged him.
There were indeed some awkward moments for the two back in the 1990s, but they remain Flyers forever and this was Heritage Night for the organization’s Hall of Famers in celebration of their 50th Anniversary.
“You know I haven’t seen him in forever, and it was just fun and when we got out there we just said, ‘nice to be back on the ice again’, it’s been a long time and I haven’t seen him,” Brind’Amour explained of the gesture toward Lindros. 
“I saw Johnny [LeClair] last year but it was just nice to catch up with these guys and relive some stories, we had a lot of great times so it was nice to see him.”
How ironic that Brind’Amour would get traded to Carolina for a larger centerman in Keith Primeau and eventually after the pain of separation from the Flyers womb had healed, he won a Cup with the Hurricanes.
Ask Roddy and he’ll tell you that Cup should have been won in Philly. He began the season as a member of the 1999-00 team that blew a 3-1 lead to the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals, but was traded at the mid-point.
To this very day, it ranks all-time as the most controversial trade the Flyers ever made. As if the very soul of the organization had been purged.
“Well I mean that’s the way it goes, right?” Brind’Amour said. “We had a great team. We had a great team back then, but trades happen and they were trying to make the team better. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t, but had we stayed together who knows what could have happened.
“I’m just fortunate that I got that Cup because obviously, that is what I played for my whole life. Would it have been great to have it here? Yes, I mean that would have been something special, but that’s life. It doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
“It was just unfortunate we didn’t win because we were one of the best teams in the league there for a long time and things just didn’t work out. It’s hard to win a Stanley Cup, let me tell you.”
He admitted there’s an orange ‘n black spot in his heart that will forever belong to the Flyers. That’s why he interrupted his own season in Carolina to return here for one night of memories.
He also said how much it meant to him last spring when club chairman Ed Snider reached out to him shortly before his death.
“I got a great phone call before Mr. Snider passed and him telling me what he thought I meant to this team,” Brind’Amour said. 
“It meant a lot. So I really feel connected to the Flyers' organization again and I’ll take any chance I can to get back here and be a part of it.
“It has meant a lot to me to be back here and be in the fold. I love the alumni … so, any chance to get to reconnect with these guys means the world to me.”
Which is pretty much how Flyers fans felt about him, too.