VANCOUVER, B.C. - Just like the last time Sébastien Le Toux joined a new team in Major League Soccer, it didn’t take long for him to make a dramatic first impression.
Two years ago at Lincoln Financial Field, Sébastien Le Toux scored in the fourth minute of in his first home game with the Philadelphia Union.
Saturday afternoon at B.C. Place, Le Toux did the very same thing for the Vancouver Whitecaps. His breakaway finish proved to be the game-winner in a 2-0 victory over the expansion Montréal Impact.
Even before kickoff, Le Toux had already started to win the hearts of Whitecaps fans. He was featured prominently in a full-page ad on the back page of the sports section in Saturday’s Vancouver Sun newspaper.
And when his name was announced in the starting lineup, the sellout crowd of 21,000 gave the same reaction that the Sons of Ben did in 2010 and 2011: "Toooouuux."
Le Toux ended up playing the full 90 minutes, officially registering two shots along with his trademark hustle all over the field.
No one expected anything different, of course. But given the dynamism of Vancouver’s attack, it’s clear that Le Toux has the potential for a stellar season with the Whitecaps this year.
The Whitecaps’ potential stems not just from the "French Connection" forward partnership of Le Toux and Eric Hassli.
Vancouver’s midfield - with Camilo and Atiba Harris on the wings, and Davide Chiumiento in the center - is definitely capable of playing some attractive soccer. And don’t be surprised if wing backs Alain Rochat and Lee Young-Pyo join the party as well.
Le Toux has played with some great passers during his time in Major League Soccer, including Seattle’s Steve Zakuani and the Union’s Roger Torres. But the Camilo-Chiumiento-Harris combination might be the best yet, especially since Chiumiento is one of the best playmakers in the league.
"Roger and Davide have kind of the same characteristics," Le Toux said. "Both are short guys who love to take space and dribble and find good passes behind the defense. I'm lucky that Davide speaks French too, so it's easy to communicate on the field."
None of this came as any surprise to a pair of fellow Whitecaps who have gotten to know Le Toux well over their careers.
Backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton and left back Jordan Harvey were among Vancouver’s substitutes yesterday, and both knew exactly what their team was getting when Le Toux arrived in town.
"I told the coaching staff what they were going to get out of Sébastien," Knighton said. "He's a hard-working player, and he's one for the team. Obviously you saw that tonight with him, going box-to-box and scoring the first goal."
One of the few people in B.C. Place who wasn’t happy with Le Toux’s performance yesterday was former teammate Justin Mapp. When the Impact took Mapp from Philadelphia in their expansion draft, the relationship turned from cordial to professional.
"I hate that we let [Le Toux] get an early goal on us, but he's a good player and goal scorer," Mapp said. "I wish him well here, but I think we let him get one for sure."
Mapp’s task in Montréal is much more difficult than Le Toux’s in Vancouver. The Impact looked every bit like an expansion team yesterday, with flashes of good play at times but a general lack of cohesion.
"It's a process - there's plenty of stuff we can improve on," Mapp said. "I thought we had some good spells with the ball, and some chances that could we have made different."
As one of his team’s MLS veterans, Mapp said he realizes his role is to help fix that problem.
"I've been around this league and played a lot of games, and hopefully that will come through on the field and off the field as well to the younger players," Mapp said.
If there’s one thing that all four players agreed on, it was that playing in Philadelphia was a very enjoyable experience.
"The one thing that stands out the most is the fans, the Sons of Ben," said Knighton, whose wife’s family lives in the Philadelphia area. "They were absolutely fantastic from day one. So I can't wait to get back and see them and see guys from the team."
Mapp also praised the fans in Philadelphia, and he has seen his fair share of the league’s supporters clubs. The Impact are the fourth MLS team for which the Mississippi native has played, after stints with D.C. United, the Chicago Fire and the Union.
He described Montréal as "as passionate a place as there is in MLS." That has been borne out by the team’s ticket sales, which could top 50,000 for next Saturday’s home opener at Olympic Stadium.
Harvey admitted that he misses the City of Brotherly Love, and that Vancouver is a completely different kind of place. But he added that the change of coast is not necessarily a bad thing - especially as a California native.
"Vancouver is awesome," he said. "It feels like a U.S. city and it's got all the things I love - water, mountains and beautiful scenery anywhere you look."
And then there is Le Toux. He is as gracious and polite now as he was in Philadelphia, no doubt. But all I had to say to him were the words "March 31st," and...
"It's going to be special - I've got great memories and I love the fans," Le Toux said. "It was a good town for me to play in, and I'm of course going to enjoy my time there. But now I play for Vancouver, and I'm going to try my best to make Vancouver win."
Le Toux has not held back his thoughts on the Union’s front office since his departure from PPL Park.
I asked him whether he will have revenge on his mind when the Whitecaps visit the Union at the end of this month.
"Not revenge, no," he said. "That's not a good word. I'm just motivated to show that maybe if Philadelphia believed that I was done, and didn't want me to re-sign a [new] contract, that maybe they were wrong and I can play very well."
Le Toux did not leave much doubt yesterday about his ability to play very well. Now attention shifts south to Portland for the Union’s season opener Monday night.
It’s time to find out whether the players tasked with replacing Le Toux’s goals and leadership can get the job done.