Sebastien Le Toux and Kyle Nakazawa were seen as the two major free kick takers on the Philadelphia Union through the team's first two seasons of existence.
For Le Toux it was because of his massive number of free kicks, coupled with a perceived high failure rate on them. Nakazawa's status as a free kick taker came from a mystique that he developed among the Union's fan base from great technique. One was hated when he took free kicks, the other beloved for his.
However, perception is not always reality.
The much maligned Le Toux took 29 free kick opportunities in 2011 and was able to shoot three on target and find three teammates on what Opta considers "chip free kicks." The striker's free kick on target percentage (the total number of free kick shots on target and chip free kicks that connect with teammates divided by the overall number of free kicks taken) was 20.6 percent last year.
It may be surprising for some reading to learn that 20.6 percent was top three on the team last year, in terms of free kick on target percentage. Only Carlos Ruiz at 75 percent (three on target, including a goal, out of four opportunities) and Roger Torres at 33.3 percent (completed three chipped free kicks out of nine overall opportunities) had better FKOTP numbers than Le Toux last year.
Nakazawa, on the other hand, had 15 opportunities, in 1,208 minutes played, and was successful on only two of them, only an 13.3 FKOTP. The midfielder's free kick troubles included only one of his 11 dead spot long balls reaching a teammate.
As a team, the Union had a FKOTP of 19 percent, or 16 successful free kicks out of 84 overall opportunities during the 2011 MLS regular season.
Removing Justin Mapp, Ruiz, Nakazawa and Le Toux from the team's statistics, since all four are no longer with the Union, only two players on Philadelphia's current 2012 roster recorded a successful free kick opportunity last season.
Freddy Adu and Torres were not the most prolific free kick takers in 2011. As previously mentioned, Torres had a rate of one out of every three free kicks being successful, but only took nine free kicks all year. Adu had troubles with dead ball opportunities, failing on his first six, almost immediately after joining the Union, finishing his abbreviated first stint with two successful free kicks in 11 tries.
While Keon Daniel is another player on the Union that has the skill to possibly turn a free kick into a goal, the Trinidad and Tobago international has still yet to be seen in the United States since around August 29. Last year Daniel was only given one chance to take a free kick and managed to just skim the cross bar with his attempt.
None of the players that the Union have brought in thus far are known for their free kick abilities, leaving the reins to Philadelphia's only two creative midfielders.
Heading into 2012, the Union have, based on their 2011 numbers, five players that have taken free kicks for the team, with only five of their collective 25 free kick attempts. Who the next free kick cult hero, and the next villain, will be has yet to be decided.