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.

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

The Eagles released Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday, ending the brief and disappointing Eagles careers of both veteran wide receivers.

The two receivers were among eight players released by the team on Sunday evening.

Randle caught five passes for 26 yards in the preseason and Givens caught one for 19 yards.

The Eagles tried to bolster their receiver corps by adding the two receivers this offseason, signing Randle to a one-year, $1,025,000 contract and Givens to a one-year $760,000 deal.

Randle got $500,000 guaranteed and Givens $180,000 guaranteed, so the two moves will count $680,000 against the Eagles’ 2016 adjusted salary cap of $161,570,362.

The moves leave the Eagles with eight wide receivers: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones and David Watford.

Barring any other personnel moves, Matthews, Agholor, Green-Beckham, Huff and Turner appear headed for the final 53-man roster.

Randle’s decline is fairly astonishing.

Two years ago with the Giants, he caught 71 passes for 938 yards, and last year he caught 57 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four catches of 40 yards or more in 2015, fourth-most in the NFL. In four seasons in New York, he caught 188 passes for 2,644 yards and 20 TDs.

Yet the Giants had no interest in re-signing him. Now the former second-round pick’s career is in jeopardy at the age of 25.

Givens, a fourth-round pick of the Rams in 2012, was with his third team in two years this summer. His once-promising career could be over at the age of 26.

Most notable among the six other players released was offensive tackle Andrew Gardner, who started 11 games in an Eagles uniform.

Gardner, who had also spent time with the Dolphins and Texans, started eight games at right guard and right tackle for the Eagles in 2014 and was the Eagles’ opening-day starter last year at right guard. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during a Week 3 game against the Jets at the Meadowlands and missed the rest of the season.

Also released was a member of last year’s draft class, sixth-round pick Randall Evans out of Kansas State. Evans spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad but was activated for the Pat Shurmur season finale against the Giants at the Meadowlands and got into the game on special teams.

The Eagles also released veteran defensive tackle Mike Martin, who played in 46 games for the Titans the last four years, including five starts. Also released were long snapper John DePalma and cornerback Denzel Rice, the latter of who played in five games last year and got 20 defensive snaps in the season finale against the Giants last year.

The Eagles also placed linebacker Joe Walker (knee) and defensive end Alex McCalister (calf), two rookie seventh-round picks, on season-ending Injured Reserve.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce rosters to 75. The Eagles’ roster is currently at 73, and they have to reduce it to 53 by 4 p.m. next Sunday.

The Eagles finish the preseason on Thursday night at the Linc against the Jets.

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson had his first career three-homer game, Troy Tulowitzki also went deep and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 9-6 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Donaldson hit a solo homer off Kyle Gibson in the second, then delivered a go-ahead, two-run blast off Pat Light (0-1) in the seventh.

Dozens of fans tossed hats onto the field to celebrate the home run hat trick after Donaldson, the AL MVP in 2015, hit a solo shot off Alex Wimmers in the eighth. Groundskeepers and even the Blue Jays mascot helped clear the hats away.

Donaldson's fourth multi-homer game this season and the 10th of his career also marked the 17th three-homer game in the majors this season.

Jose Bautista had his first three-hit game of the season for the AL East-leading Blue Jays.

Minnesota lost its season-worst 10th straight. The Twins have lost seven straight in Toronto.

Scott Feldman (7-4) earned the win by getting two outs in the seventh. Jason Grilli worked the eighth and Roberto Osuna finished (see full recap). 

Pirates win 8th straight on road, sweep Brewers 3-1
MILWAUKEE -- Ivan Nova threw six sharp innings before leaving early because of a hurting left hamstring and the Pittsburgh Pirates hit three solo homers to rally past the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 on Sunday for their eighth straight road victory.

John Jaso and Gregory Polanco each homered in the sixth off Brewers starter Chase Anderson (7-11) to complete Pittsburgh's first sweep at Miller Park since 2004. Starling Marte added a solo shot in the eighth.

Nova (4-0) retired 10 of his final 11 batters after allowing Jonathan Villar's solo homer in the third. He scattered three hits and struck out four before being pinch hit for in the seventh.

Tony Watson pitched a clean ninth for his 10th save in 13 opportunities (see full recap).

Archer strikes out 10, Rays hit 3 HRs in 10-4 win vs Astros
HOUSTON -- Chris Archer struck out 10 in seven innings, Corey Dickerson hit a three-run homer and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 10-4 on Sunday.

Matt Duffy and Nick Franklin also went deep for the last-place Rays, who have homered in 21 of their last 24 games.

Houston, in the hunt for an AL wild card, had won three straight.

Archer (8-17) gave up three runs and four hits with two walks. With his strikeout of A.J. Reed in the sixth, the right-hander joined David Price and James Shields as the only Tampa Bay pitchers with multiple 200-strikeout seasons.

The Rays jumped out early against Doug Fister.

Fister (12-9) allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, the fourth time in his past seven starts he has permitted four or more runs (see full recap). 

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A.J. Ellis’ first game as a Phillie certainly went a lot better than Carlos Ruiz’s first game as a Dodger.

Ellis’ first hit with his new club helped the Phils salvage one game of a weekend series with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies won it, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), behind a solid start from Vince Velasquez, excellent bullpen work and Ellis’ big hit, a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the seventh.

The Phillies had lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5. Their pitchers gave up eight homers in the first two games.

On Sunday, Velasquez and a quartet of relievers held the Mets to seven hits, all singles.

Ellis joined the Phillies just 24 hours earlier after being traded from the Dodgers on Thursday. He had been with that club his whole career.

Ruiz, of course, had been with the Phillies his whole career.

Ruiz’s first game with the Dodgers did not go nearly as smooth. The veteran catcher had trouble handling the pitches of closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Friday night and that contributed to the Dodgers blowing a one-run lead and losing to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings.

Leaving the Dodgers was difficult and emotional for Ellis. He was able to bury himself in the game Sunday and came away feeling pretty good.

“It’s just great to be playing baseball again,” he said, standing in front of his locker, a blue Dodgers equipment bag (that will soon be swapped out for a Phillies bag) at his feet. “You kind of lose yourself in the competition and then just play again.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last four days, it feels good to drive in runs, feels good to help put your team ahead and help contribute to a team win.”

During his 24 or so hours with the Phillies, Ellis has immersed himself in learning a new staff of pitchers. He caught starters Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson in the bullpen before Saturday’s game and warmed up several relievers during that game.

On Sunday morning, he arrived at Citi Field, saw his name in the lineup and immediately began prepping to catch Velasquez, the hardest-thrower on the Phillies’ starting staff.

Velasquez bounced back from three poor outings in which he gave up 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings and held a hot Mets lineup to a run over five innings. The only negative was that Velasquez could not pitch deeper into the game because his command was poor and needed 103 pitches to complete the five innings.

Nonetheless, Ellis, who was the personal catcher for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, liked what he saw of Velasquez.

“His pitch count got elevated the first two innings and he was able to grind through the last three,” Ellis said. “The stuff is electric. He has so many weapons, so many options. When he keeps growing and keeps polishing that gift up, it’s going to be really, really special.

“So I’m excited to be able to continue to work with him, excited to work with him and (pitching coach) Bob McClure and (No. 1 catcher) Cameron Rupp, kind of talk to them about things, things he sees, things we see, and together we can build a plan for him going forward in his career.”

Two things are going to help the 24-year-old Velasquez reach his potential.

First is good health. He’s had arm problems in the past and there remain concerns about his long-term durability. That’s why the Phillies are closely monitoring his workload as this season winds down.

Second is command, control, economy of pitches – whatever you want to call it. Velasquez needs to be more efficient. Too many times he’s left games in the middle innings because of a high pitch count.

“Definitely,” he responded when asked if lowering his pitch counts and working deeper into games was the key to his improvement. “It’s going to help the longevity, it saves the bullpen, it helps out everybody. Not just on my end, but the whole team in general.

“And,” he joked, “then I can also work on my swing by getting some more at-bats.”

Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. He is up to 129 innings for the season. That includes five innings in a rehab game at Double A Reading. The Phillies will look to keep him at about 150 innings for the season. That could be three, four or five more starts, depending on how long the right-hander lasts. He’s averaged just over five innings in his starts this season.

“I think that would be the right move,” Velasquez said of the 150-inning target.