Is it time for a rebuilding season? A new direction? Has a particular star seen his time with the team come to an end? All can be future-defining questions that will not only affect the immediate performance of the team but have the possibility to draw the ire of those who support them so ardently year-round.
The Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League are going through a situation like this at the moment. Their best player and face of the franchise for over a decade, Peyton Manning, is on his way out, after 11 Pro Bowls, four MVP awards and one Super Bowl win, among other accolades. Manning is the Colts and now he's being cast aside to usher in a new era for a team that struggled mightily without him this season.
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On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Union, took a page from the Colts' book and sent Sebastien Le Toux, the team's all-time leading scorer, MVP, all-star, and everything-man to the Vancouver Whitecaps for an undisclosed amount of allocation money.
Looking at the deal at top level, Philadelphia dealt away a player who had a hand in 55 percent (25 goals, 20 assists) of the team's 81 goals during its two seasons in MLS. It dealt away a player who played in every minute of every match in 2011 and every minute of the 28 he played in 2010. Le Toux, 28, is one of the hardest working players in MLS and is a two-time winner of the league's Fair Play Award.
|THE LE TOUX LOVE AFFAIR
| LE TOUX'S UNION NUMBERS (2010 & 2011)
PERCENT OF UNION OFFENSE
| LE TOUX'S UNSUNG NUMBERS
For Union team manager Peter Nowak, sending Le Toux to Vancouver was just business; he has his side's future development in mind.
"The feelings are not really included in my job description," said Nowak on a conference call. "I have to make sure the team is good, the team understands our goals and the team is going to have a future. That's more important to me: to see the overall picture and see the overall philosophy we have as a team and as a franchise."
The move directly influences the development of Philadelphia's young crop of forwards as the likes of former no. 1 overall draft pick Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney and recently-acquired Josue Martinez will all get time to prove they are capable of replicating Le Toux's gaudy offensive numbers. Roger Torres will continue to gain prominence in the offensive setup. Freddy Adu may finally flourish. All good things for the Union's future.
What isn't such a great thing, however, is how the Union parted company so swiftly with a player that made an impact with Union fans far beyond the beautiful goals he scored and chances he created.
"Vancouver made a very strong approach and we as team and a coaching staff and the board analyzed the whole situation and accepted the offer," Nowak said rather curtly.Le Toux, despite being a native of Mont-Saint-Aignan, a city nearly 4,000 miles away, was truly a Philadelphia athlete. Workmanlike and determined every second he was on the pitch, the French forward won the hearts of the Union faithful each time he closed down a goalie at top speed or ran down a loose ball. He did everything for the Union and asked nothing in return ... and Philadelphia adored him for it.
At times he wasn't comfortable playing in certain positions, mainly on the wing, but he did it without complaint. He never let it affect his performance on the pitch and always put his teammates first when he could. More often than not, Le Toux made the Union a better team and was widely recognized as one of the league's 'good guys'.
It even extended to his time off the pitch. Le Toux would often spend hours signing autographs for fans after matches and was always very approachable from a media standpoint. Basically, Le Toux was everything you'd want in a star player and then some.
|"It's always hard to leave a team, especially as I was committed 100 percent when I was in Philadelphia."
- Sebastien Le Toux
He put his heart and soul into his time with Philadelphia and that in ways could be harder to replace than his team-leading goal and assist numbers.
"It's always hard to leave a team, especially as I was committed 100 percent when I was in Philadelphia," said Le Toux in a conference call. "I'm just going to be 100 percent with the Vancouver Whitecaps now. I’m lucky to be able to play in places where the fans are great."
Now, though, all the parties involved must move on. Vancouver has picked up a heck of a player who will surely make it a better team than the one that was dead last in the league last season. Philadelphia, which happened to release its captain Faryd Mondragon earlier in the week, enters a crucial season in which expectations will be sky-high, even without its all-time leading goalscorer.
For Nowak and the rest of the team's braintrust, the decision to deal Le Toux may make a lot of sense, now anyway. To the fans and Le Toux, it stings badly, just like any forced breakup would.
The reality is, whether popular or otherwise, deals like this are made all the time in the sports world and take time to sink in. Le Toux may be leaving Philadelphia to play in the far away city of Vancouver but the impact he made in the city in two short years will never be forgotten, not for all the allocation money in the world.