He gracefully strides forward, raising his hands above his head, clapping not for his or his team's display. Rather he directs it to another source: the supporters. Continuing his path towards the players tunnel, the player displays a wide smile on his face, looking up to those he is applauding. In front of him is a pack of his fellow players, all of whom have already acknowledged the applauded group of fans. He, however, never appears finished with his appreciation. Reaching the area near the tunnel, his name begins to be chanted and a remarkably large grin takes over his face. He knows of the crowd's love for him but he does not take it for granted. Signing things, talking to fans, giving away his gear - all things the player has done to reciprocate that love for him. In all his actions, including during matches and off the pitch, he has shown that he truly loves the fans back.
Soccer has many nicknames and euphemisms. To England (and much of Western Europe) it is association football, in Spanish speaking countries it is futbol, in South Africa it is known as soccer, the list goes on and on. The most prominent of these nicknames is "the beautiful game". It is a game of flair, of tactics, of "did you see that!" or "what a beauty!" moments. But it is also a gentlemanly game at its core. At the end of each game it is tradition to exchange jerseys with a player on the opposing team. It is a gesture that shows that no matter the outcome of the game played there is still civility and sportsmanship in the game. Typically the best player of that game is highly sought after for his jersey. That in itself is a show of respect from one player, or team, to another.
Sebastien Le Toux is the truest emulation of that gentlemanly nature of soccer - he is a gentleman on and off the pitch. Le Toux this season has established himself as an elite player in the MLS with 13 goals and 10 assists, accounting for nearly 72 percent of the Union's offensive production (13 goals + 10 assists = 23 goal contributions out of the 32 goals that the Union have scored this season). But it is his huge heart and his graciousness towards the fans are what truly make him great.
Before beginning to blog about the Union, or even becoming a true fan of the Union, I knew about Le Toux. Some players transcend their respective sports because of their egos or their gentlemanly natures. Le Toux falls under the second category and for good reason. Going back to his time with the Seattle Sounders last season, Le Toux was a fan favorite and a felt the same way about the fans. Asked for one of his cleats after a game, Le Toux almost immediately and without hesitation reached down, unlaced his cleat and handed it to the appreciative kid (who for some reason then smelled it and got more than he was hoping for - around the 2:35 mark). That two-way appreciate has carried over to the Union and the fans have been rewarded with MVP-caliber play, while Le Toux has been rewarded with unwavering support for 90 plus minutes a game.
I don't know if I can properly convey his status as a gentleman of the game. It is through his actions that he has displayed that which I wish to write about. When I went to the Philadelphia Union-Houston Dynamo game two weeks ago it was evident that this man loved the fans perhaps more than they loved him. He smiled whenever he was around them. He seemed to genuinely love the attention, not because it boosted his ego but because it truly made him feel good inside. As I thought, it appeared as though his smile was because he was bringing joy to others. I wouldn't put it past Le Toux to actually have that mindset.
To cap off his loving nature, Le Toux has adopted America as his home country on top of seemingly adopting Philadelphia as his new home. He has already stated that he would absolutely accept a call up to the United States Mens National Team and he recently received his green card, officially giving him permanent status in the United States. With the way he has played this season, if Le Toux can remain consistent for years then there is almost no question that he will be seen in an American shirt - and a Union one - for a long time.
As much as you love him, Le Toux just seems to love you back even more.