If there was any doubt that Sébastien Le Toux had fully mended his once-frayed relationship with the Union, it was washed away by the tears he struggled to hold back Tuesday afternoon.
The Union honored Le Toux’s retirement from playing soccer with a ceremony at Talen Energy Stadium. He signed a ceremonial one-day contract so he could end his career with the team he still loves most out of the six he’s played for in MLS.
“My heart is here — it’s how I’ve felt since the first game when I scored a hat trick at Lincoln Financial Field,” Le Toux said, referring to in the Union’s inaugural home opener in 2010. “Everything brings me back here, not just the soccer club but everything else. It was just a no-brainer for me to say that yes, the Philadelphia Union is really the team that I follow, and I always support them no matter what.”
He thanked the team, including his old teammates still on the Union who came to the event. He thanked the fans repeatedly, especially those who showered him with praise and memories on social media when he hung up his cleats on Monday.
“I knew nothing about Philly and I just played soccer, and I was happy with the fan reception,” Le Toux said as he recalled his arrival here eight years ago. “The fan mentality is kind of like the mentality I have, too. So it was a good mix between me and them.”
He noted that during his first stint with the Union, in 2010 and 2011, he met Kendall Quigley, who would eventually become his wife. Their relationship endured through trades from Philadelphia to Vancouver, then New York, then back here, and later to Colorado and D.C.
“I know it’s a business, but when you’re a player you don’t think about that,” he said. “When you are really involved like I was with this team — and like I said, it’s the team I wanted to play for — it’s hard to accept it at the beginning. But the more time goes, the better idea you have about how things go, and you make your peace with it. It just takes time.”
Le Toux still doesn’t hide from how angry he was the first time the Union traded him, at the end of the 2011 season.
“I wanted to be here forever. When they traded me the first time, because it didn’t happen the right way with Peter [Nowak] and I was not expecting it at all,” he said of the team’s manager at the time. “He really cut me from nothing, with what they were saying about doing for me and re-signing me to another contract.”
When the Union dealt him away a second time, in August 2016, he was able to handle it better.
“I wanted to be here, but at the end I understood why,” he said. “I’m just thankful to have played here, and the fact that the team was moving in another direction, it was a part of playing sport. Especially in America, things happen here like that. … It’s water under the bridge.”
Le Toux’s career will be celebrated at the Union’s June 23 game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, when he will become the first inductee into the Ring of Honor at Talen Energy Stadium.
“I’m very glad the Union called me back and we did something together,” he said. “It’s unreal for me a little bit, because in my head I’m still a kid who got to play soccer.”
Having settled down again in the Philadelphia region, he’s planning for his post-playing career. He’ll do some private coaching for local youth soccer players and endorse a local pharmaceutical company’s products that he used while playing. He’ll also be a fan at Union games. And he hopes to find a role with the team’s front office, if it will have him.
“I kind of want to try some different things right now,” he said. “I don’t really know what I would love to do, because obviously the thing I love to do has been playing soccer since I was 10 years old.”
Union at Columbus Crew
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. at MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Union’s record: 2-4-2, 8 points (9th in the East); 0-3-0 on the road
Crew’s record: 4-3-3, 15 points (5th in the East); 3-1-1 at home
Series history: Crew 11 wins, Union 8 wins, 2 ties
At MAPFRE Stadium: Crew 7 wins, Union 2 wins, 1 tie
Columbus players to watch
GK Zack Steffen: The Downingtown-bred product of the Union academy is having another terrific season, with a 1.00 goals-against average through nine games. Expect to see him with the U.S. national team on May 28 when it plays Bolivia in Chester.
F Gyasi Zardes: Written off as done after being traded from the Los Angeles Galaxy in January, the 26-year-old has enjoyed a renaissance with his new team. He has five goals in 10 games, and has fit well into coach Gregg Berhalter’s tactical system.
M Federico Higuaín: Now in his seventh season with the Crew, the Argentine playmaker remains the team’s most important attacker, with two goals and four assists this year. He’ll be even more important in this game, as Designated Player forward Pedro Santos is suspended for a red card last Saturday.