It should come as no surprise to anyone that Sébastien Le Toux has been in much demand over the last few days as he returns to Philadelphia.
My opportunity to chat one-on-one with the former Union star came Friday afternoon, after the Vancouver Whitecaps returned to their hotel from a practice session in Chester.
We discussed a range of topics, most of which centered around how Le Toux thinks he’ll be received by the fans at PPL Park tomorrow. But the part that I think you’ll find the most interesting is the Frenchman’s candid remarks about his offseason trial with Bolton Wanderers, and how that affected his return to the Union.
So you haven’t played in Philadelphia as a visitor before, have you?
No, but when I was [acquired] in the Expansion Draft I stayed here [at the hotel where we met up] a few nights at the beginning of the season. It’s been a long time.
What do you think returning to PPL Park is going to be like? I know that you’ve been asked a number of times, but now that you’re here in Philadelphia, what’s going through your mind?
I think it’s going to be great. I’m happy to come back here and play in front of the fans in Philadelphia. I know they are great fans. I don’t play anymore for their team, but I know it’s a great environment to play in, and I’m just happy to play in front of my friends and family here. It’s going to be a great game for me to play in, and to be motivated to do well in.
Do you have any sense of whether you’re going to be cheered or booed?
No. I’ve heard so many things. I’m sure some fans will boo, some fans will cheer, some fans will just cheer and say thanks. It’s the same for me. I’m going to just be very happy to see them and respect them as best as I can, just like they would do for me.
Is there any extra motivation for you, given how your departure was handled by the Union?
Yeah, of course, it’s a bit special for me to play this type game. You always want to do well, especially when you want to play against your old team. And as you said, my trade to Vancouver was not so good, I was not so happy about that.
I would not say I will be more motivated than for any other game, but maybe it will be a different kind of motivation.
There hasn’t been much written, even up to now, about how your trial with Bolton Wanderers went. What can you say about what the experience was like, how it ended, and how the decision came about that they weren’t going to sign you?
For me, when I went there, I believed it was just a visit, not a tryout. I didn’t want to go there at the beginning, because I didn’t want to get injured – I wasn’t ready physically. So I was saying no at the beginning.
I went because Philadelphia kind of pushed me. They told me it was not a trial, just a visit for a week, and after a week of practice there I knew I was practicing normally with the team. I was not feeling good in my body, I was pretty tired, and I saw what I had to see over there.
The coach wanted to meet me, and he did, and at the end they wanted me to stay for another week of tryouts. But I wanted to come back here, and just come back to Philadelphia and play for the team again for the last year of my contract - even if they didn’t propose to me a new contract.
So that’s what I did, and when I came back it went pretty quickly. The club was pretty pissed at me, because I decided to come back and not to stay. They wanted me to stay, and I said, no, it’s not your decision, it’s my decision, you have nothing to say about that. If you can respect that, I’ll always respect the club and everything.
Things went pretty quickly after that. Peter Nowak and the staff decided to trade me.
So if I understand right, you went over there thinking it was just a week of training, and in the Union’s mind, it was an actual trial.
In Bolton’s mind it was a trial, and in the mind of the Union, it was maybe a trial. But they told me it was more of a visit, because they told me they didn’t want to send their best player over there and [have him] get injured. So they said don’t go 100 percent. And I didn’t, because I knew that if I did go 100 percent, I might pull a muscle.
And it was winter time – the team was pretty heavy, and I hadn’t practiced with a ball for three weeks. I know my body, so I know what I have to do to keep in shape. I think it was not good for me. I went over there thinking it was just a visit, but I saw it was not. So I decided to come back.
The coach maybe liked me a little bit over there, and wanted to see me but was not ready to sign me. I wanted to play for a coach who really wants me and a team that is really confident in me. It doesn’t matter if it’s a team in England or a team in the U.S. My personal goal is just to be happy to play soccer.
You ended up in Vancouver, which perhaps coincidentally has a few of your former Union teammates on its roster. Did that help your transition? Or did you think, once it became clear that you were going to be traded, that you didn’t care where you went?
I’m very glad that I ended up in Vancouver. It’s a great city to play soccer in, with a great fan base. I know. As a city to live in, it’s great too. I knew Jordan [Harvey] was already there, and Brad [Knighton] had just signed too. So there were some familiar faces.
It’s always easier to come into a group [like that] when you are new, especially during preseason and with a new coaching staff. I was really welcomed by everybody pretty quickly. They were happy to have me in the team and confident in my skill. It was just a great feeling to start working like that, and to see that everybody wanted me here. It’s been great.
Talk about the soccer culture in Vancouver. You’ve played in Seattle, and everyone knows how big the sport is there; and you’ve played in Philadelphia, where it’s great on game days, but there isn’t much attention paid to the sport during the rest of the week.
How does Vancouver compare? Do you get recognized on the street any, and do you notice people wearing Whitecaps gear on the street more than you did here?
It’s probably the same as here, but Vancouver isn’t as spread out as you have here with Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. There are so many people who support the Union that live all over, not just downtown. In Vancouver, it’s more a downtown city. There’s some area around it, but it’s really about downtown.
I don’t get as recognized as I am here in Philadelphia because I’ve just spent a few months with Vancouver, but I just hope the team is going to do well. Even if there are more hockey fans, with the Canucks being the big team there, soccer seems to be the second sport that people look at.
I think it’s going to come after good results, and the more good results we have, the more people are going to come to the stadium and support the team, and probably know more about who plays in this team. I hope to continue to do well so that people will know who I am over there.
Speaking of good starts with the team, could you have ever imagined scoring four minutes into your first game with the Whitecaps?
No, I never could have really dreamed about that. I was dreaming of winning the first game, that was important, but scoring like that, I never really dreamed about it. It was an incredible start, and I’m very glad I started like that with this new team.
What do you think it would be like to score against the Union?
It would be great if I could put my team on top and win the game. That would be wonderful. But if I score and we lose, it’s not so important. Most important is that we get a result here.
My job is to score goals, so of course there’s more pressure on me to do that, but I know everybody in the team can step up and do it. So I’m going to do my best, and if I do it would be great.
Finally, how much of an impact does your fellow forward Eric Hassli not being here due to injury have on you, and on how the team plays?
I don’t think it’s so much, because everybody is ready to step up. We had a great preseason, and we changed the team and the players a lot. Everybody knows exactly what his role is in this team and how we play in the system, so I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.
It’s good for a player who hasn’t played much from the beginning to step up and show the coaching staff that he can be here. It’s on them to take their chances, and to myself to play up top. Even if Eric isn’t here – he’s a big piece in the team – we have the pieces that can compete as a squad to win.