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.

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with Western Conference leader

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with Western Conference leader

Flyers (12-10-3) vs. Blackhawks (16-6-3)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Behind captain Claude Giroux's two goals and overtime heroics Thursday, the Flyers enter Saturday's matinee with the Chicago Blackhawks on their longest win streak of the season.

That and more as we get ready for the afternoon showdown at the Wells Fargo Center.

1. Three's company
With their 3-2 OT win over the Senators, the Flyers have now won three (3!) games in a row for the second time this season, a sign the ship might be turning in the right direction.

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol applauded his team's 61-minute effort afterward. Comparing it to Tuesday's win over Boston in which Steve Mason single-handedly stole two points from the Bruins, Hakstol said the Ottawa game was a "real, good, consistent effort" throughout the lineup, which the Flyers will have to mimic again Saturday in order to beat Chicago.

On Friday, Hakstol rewarded the Flyers with an optional practice. Brandon Manning, who has missed the last two games because of a possible concussion, returned to practice Friday and was cleared to play. If Manning returns Saturday, Andrew MacDonald seems like the likely candidate to come out.

Manning's return would be welcomed for the Flyers. The 26-year-old has been one of the team's most consistent players. He's been aggressive, both offensively and defensively, and his play is not deserving of a healthy scratch. But with no morning skate and limited player availability Friday, Manning's status for the Blackhawks' game remains unknown.

2. Power hour
For the Flyers to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games Saturday, they will have to do so not only with a sound, defensive game but also on special teams.

If there is one area Chicago has struggled this season, it has been the penalty kill. At 70.1 percent, the Blackhawks have the league's worst PK unit, and have a middle-of-the-road power play despite all of their offensive firepower.

The Flyers, on the other hand, have the league's third-best power play at 23.6 percent, and their penalty-kill units have improved lately, getting up to 80 percent. The Flyers have two PP goals in their last 19 opportunities.

Still, Chicago's power play is dangerous despite its recent struggles. The Blackhawks have just one power-play goal since Nov. 19, and went 0 for 4 on Thursday against the Devils.

3. Corey's crease
The Blackhawks also enter Saturday hot, winning three of their last four games; however, they have gone to overtime in their last three games. Chicago has had issues with slow starts in games recently, and the Devils' game Thursday was another example of that.

New Jersey took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but easily could have had a larger lead had it not been for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who's been excellent this season. Crawford faced 13 shots in the opening period Thursday and kept the 'Hawks in the game, as he has all season long. The Blackhawks sit atop the NHL with 35 points (at the time of this posting), and Crawford is a major reason for that.

Crawford has a 2.27 goals-against average and .927 save percentage this season. He's pitched two shutouts and has faced 33 or more shots in his last four games. Scoring on Crawford has not been easy for opponents this season, but the Flyers do average 3.1 goals, third in the NHL.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let's stick with Giroux. The 28-year-old snapped a nine-game goal drought Tuesday with power-play goal, and then added two more Thursday — one at 5-on-5 and one in the 3-on-3 overtime. Giroux's play at even strength has been scrutinized, but his point production remains potent. Giroux has a four-game point streak — three goals, two assists — and has 22 points in 25 games this season. He also got engaged Thursday in Ottawa.

Blackhawks: So many players to watch, but let's highlight the ageless Marian Hossa. The 37-year-old continues to be an effective player even as he grows older. Now in his 18th NHL season, Hossa leads Chicago with 12 goals, including the game-winner in overtime against New Jersey Thursday. Hossa tallied his 500th career goal against the Flyers back on Oct. 18, and has 15 goals in 48 career games against the orange and black. He still has it.

5. This and that
• Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is out for Saturday's game because of an upper-body injury, per CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers. Toews hasn't played since Nov. 23.

• Mason, Saturday's projected starter, is 7-12-3 with a 3.42 GAA and .890 save percentage in 23 career games against the Blackhawks. After a disaster start to the season, Mason has a 2.22 GAA and .912 save percentage over his last nine games.

• Chicago has five players with seven or more goals, and five players with double-digit assists.

TicketIQ: Affordable seats available to see Sixers face marquee opponents

TicketIQ: Affordable seats available to see Sixers face marquee opponents

Editor's Note: The following is sponsored content written by TicketIQ.

The improvements have been obvious for the 76ers this season. Just months removed from a franchise-worst 10-72 record, the Sixers have begun to see return on their rebuild with rookie Joel Embiid leading the charge.
 
December will be a big month for the team as it looks to rise in the Eastern Conference. Attending an upcoming game won’t come attached with big ticket prices, either. With several marquee opponents headed to Wells Fargo Center over the next four weeks, including the Lakers, Celtics and Raptors, fans can find relatively inexpensive ticket prices on the resale market all month long.
 
On TicketIQ, a ticket search engine that pools tickets and data from over 90 percent of the resale market, the average resale price for 76ers tickets in December is just $58. That makes December among the cheapest months to see the Sixers this season.

 
With the Lakers in town for a December 16 game, it will be the only 76ers home game this month that commands an average resale price above $100. On TicketIQ, 76ers vs Lakers tickets own a $112 average and the most inexpensive are listed from $27 each. It will be the Lakers’ sole visit to Philadelphia this season.
 
The Celtics will be the Sixers’ second most expensive opponent this month, but their December 3 visit is currently averaging nearly half the price the Lakers are seeing when they’re in town two weeks later. As it stands now the average resale price for tickets against the Celtics is $69 with a get-in price of $13.
 
The Nets, Pelicans and Raptors are all generating similar demand for their respective stops in Philadelphia later this month. With all three teams visiting over a six-day period between December 14 and 20, no game will average over $55 on the secondary market. Tickets start from as low as $7 each to when Anthony Davis and the Pelicans come to town on the 20th.
 
For those fans with interest in attending the most inexpensive games at Wells Fargo Center this month, the struggling Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets will serve as the most affordable opponents to see in action in December. The Magic play the Sixers on Friday night, where last-minute 76ers vs. Magic tickets are averaging $43. Their next home game against the Nuggets have an average resale price of just $35.