In 2010, Sebastien Le Toux was the beloved hero of the Philadelphia Union; known not only for his incredible longevity and often brilliant bouts of athleticism, his persistent efforts on the field and season-long consistency allowed him to lead the team in goals (14), assists (11), game winning goals (3), and penalty kick goals (3/3). He was also amongst the team leaders in total games started (28), games played (28), and minutes played (2,520). It is also worth mentioning that he was the recipient of the 2010 "MLS Fair Play Award", an award given to the player with the fewest amount of yellow + red cards.
By all means, the upcoming 2011 MLS season was full of promise for the Philadelphia Union. After a chaotic off-season full of player releases, trades, and numerous signings, it was time for the Union to regroup and concentrate on a productive 2011 season - of course, with Le Toux leading the way.
Or would he?
Surprisingly enough, Sebastien Le Toux has taken a backseat in 2011, fighting to contribute in any way possible while the rest of the team continues to fight for sole possession of 1st place in the Eastern Conference standings. Of course, Union fans have noticed this lack of production from Le Toux, and some fans have even called for him to be traded, released, or at least replaced on the field until he can regain his "proper" 2010 form.
So, what happened to Le Toux? That is a very complicated question to answer. A lot has changed since the Union's 2010 debut season, and there are possibly numerous factors involved which could have greatly impacted his overall role on the field.
For starters, the off-season signing of Carlos Ruiz as a forward and the continuous growth of Danny Mwanga has allowed for not only more offensive flexibility, but variability as well; with additional strikers up front, this allows Le Toux to fall back offensively and focus more on midfield rhythm and distribution - setting up plays that could possibly lead to goals. This could explain why Le Toux only has only 1 goal this season (off a penalty kick), yet still continues to lead the team in assists (7), leaving both Mwanga and Kyle Nakazawa trailing behind him with only 3. In 2010, Le Toux managed 11 assists through 28 games; in 2011, Le Toux has managed 7 assists through 21 games - easily suggesting that he's on the same pace as before in regards to assistance production.
However, those are just stats. What about his late touch? He has been very late with his first-touch on the ball, which has often times compromised any promise of a scoring drive. Perhaps he is already aware of this, and this further explains why he selflessly distributes the ball amongst other players - allowing them their own offensive opportunities. In the meantime, he continues to press hard both offensively and defensively, fighting for the ball and then pushing it forward; although it hasn't been credited to him much this season due to his lack of obvious statistical production, the fact still remains that his workhorse-mentality on the field is still the same as it was last year, and he continues to play with the same non-stop menacing longevity as he had before; which, of course, puts great amounts of pressure on both opponents' defenses and offensive drives - not to mention helps his own team's offensive rhythm.
Regardless of the speculation and criticisms, it would be wrong to assume that just because Le Toux isn't scoring nearly as many goals that he isn't being a productive player on the field. Sure, his first-touch isn't nearly as good as it was last year. Sure, he may take way too many eager shots on goal to try and get back on track. However, it's important to consider that perhaps he has readjusted his abilities and is now utilizing them for midfield production - both in terms of offensive and defense. He continues to contribute in his typical Le Toux way, and that's the sort of work ethic and mentality you want out of all your players.
He may not be the same Le Toux as he was in 2010, but he's still a very, very important part of the team with a lot of responsibilities on his shoulders - not to mention work to do. So the next time you vouch for him to be traded, just remember what he still does for this team that you can't track statistically. Then, perhaps, you'll reconsider.