Sebastien Le Toux Returns To Philly
Plus: Kenny Cooper settles, Toronto's defense gets a boost, and a Chicago GK dilemma
Reunions come in all shapes and sizes. Some are festive, as old friends reacquaint themselves and recall the good times. And there are those that morph into an episode of "Survivor: All-Stars." The latter probably comes closest to describing what awaits Sebastien Le Toux this Saturday when the Vancouver Whitecaps travel to PPL Park to take on the Philadelphia Union.
It wasn't even two months ago that Union manager Peter Nowak came up with the most stunning move of the MLS offseason, banishing the one-time Best XI forward and fan favorite to the Whitecaps for allocation money. Nowak insisted he had his reasons for making the move, with salary cap considerations at the top of his list. No matter. Le Toux, who was heading toward the final year of his contract, left Philadelphia feeling embittered over what he felt was shabby treatment. He claims that Nowak didn't even bother to call him to tell him the deal had been done. Now Le Toux will be making his first trip back to the stadium where fans once vociferously sang his praises.
"It's going to be a bit weird," he said via telephone about the upcoming match. "This time, I will have to be careful to go to the right locker room. When I step out on the field, I will warm up on the [same] side that I used to. It's kind of normal; I spent two great years over there. But it will be a good thing for me to turn the page on my career in Philly."
Of course, that depends on one's perspective. While three games is too small a sample size to judge the merits of the deal, the early returns look grim for the Union. Philadelphia has started the season 0-3-0, scoring just twice, and Nowak has come under increasing fire for relying too heavily on youth -- in particular goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who has looked decidedly shaky so far this season.
Vancouver, meanwhile, currently sits atop the Western Conference with seven points. Skeptics will rightly point out that the Whitecaps have yet to test themselves against the league's elite, but no matter, a 2-0-1 mark is one they'll gladly take after ending last season at the bottom of the standings.
Le Toux, for his part, has been a mainstay, scoring one of the team's three goals. And with talented attackers such as Eric Hassli, Davide Chiumiento and Camilo by his side, it seems just a matter of time before the team's offense starts to jell even more. Vancouver manager Martin Rennie declared himself more than satisfied with Le Toux's contribution so far.
"He's such a hardworking player, and he's also such a great person to have on your team," Rennie said about Le Toux. "He's so positive with all the other players, and helps to build the team chemistry and team unity. He's just a really respectful guy who obviously has had a lot of success in the league, and he's already had some success with us."
Le Toux would love nothing better than to stick it to Nowak, indicating that he has no plans to have any further dialogue with his former manager. And yet, the Frenchman takes a more conciliatory tone when the subject turns to the Union fans, as rabid a group as any in the league. The Whitecaps have two other former Union players on their roster in defender Jordan Harvey and goalkeeper Brad Knighton, and while Le Toux said he's expecting "a nice reception" from the fans, he also has no illusions as to where their allegiance lies.
"I understand them, and they are great fans. I know, of course, they're going to cheer for their team for all the game, which is what they should do," he said. "But I think there will always be big respect between us as players and them. We gave our best to this team when we played for them, and I think the respect will be mutual."
That will make for the best kind of reunion.
Cooper settles in New York
Know this about new New York Red Bulls forward Kenny Cooper: The man never has a discouraging word to say about anyone. So he was not about to utter anything negative about the difficult season he had last year in Portland in which he scored eight goals in 29 games but largely failed to live up to expectations.
Yet with three goals in his first three games this season, it looks as if the Cooper that lit up MLS from 2006-09 is back. Granted, a Colorado side that was missing midfielders Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni was an easy mark, but Cooper looked active and sharp in his two other appearances as well. It speaks of a player with tons more self-belief than he had a year ago -- not that he would admit it, instead deflecting praise on his teammates.
"I have a lot of confidence in the guys around me," he said. "Obviously, there's a lot of talent on this team, a lot of guys with incredible experience and ability. Being a striker on this team is a lot of fun, and it's nice to have that good feeling of confidence in the players around you."
In the process, Cooper looks to have struck up an effective partnership with Thierry Henry, who has assisted on two of Cooper's goals.
"I don't hide the fact that Henry is a hero of mine," said Cooper. "Any day around him, whether it's in a game or on the training field, is a great opportunity to learn for myself and everyone on the team."
Yes, he Cann
Toronto FC has lots of repair work to do on defense, and not much time to do it. TFC is set to play Santos Laguna in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions league before hosting Columbus at the weekend, all while still smarting from last weekend's 3-0 pasting at the hands of San Jose.
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With Torsten Frings still hobbled by a hamstring strain, manager Aron Winter has limited options but indicated help is on the way on two fronts. The Dutchman stated that he intends to sign another defender shortly, and that defender Adrian Cann's recovery from a torn ACL in his right knee he sustained last May is moving faster than expected. Cann will be available to play against Santos (although he will likely be on the bench), but even if Cann doesn't see the field on Wednesday, his return isn't far off.
"Cann is looking fairly sharp, pretty well," Winter said. "He didn't play a minute in a game, but the last 3-4 weeks he's [training] completely full with the team. You can see that he's fit and that he wants to make up these minutes."
Is there a goalkeeper battle brewing in Chicago? Off the back of a highly successful 2011 campaign, Sean Johnson was ensconced as the starting goalkeeper heading into this season, but recent circumstances could at least result in a more heated battle for the No. 1 spot.
In two matches, Inter Milan youth product Paolo Tornaghi has performed capably, helping the Fire secure a 1-1 draw in front of over 58,000 fans in Montreal and then delivering some sharp saves late to preserve the Fire's 1-0 win over Philadelphia last weekend.
"He's done well," Fire coach Frank Klopas said about Tornaghi. "I think he's very composed for a young keeper. He's got some things to work on to improve, but I think he's got a very good presence in goal, with a lot of confidence. And he's been in pressure situations, so for us we knew it wouldn't be an issue, whether it was him going in for us in the first game, playing on the road in front of so many people. Or even at home now, in front of our home fans here with a sold-out crowd."
Johnson, meanwhile, has been away on international duty with the U.S. U-23 national team. In comments made Monday prior to the U-23s' heartbreaking elimination at the hands of El Salvador, Klopas stated that the decision of who would be the starter would be made when Johnson came back. But in light of Johnson's culpability on Jaime Alas' late equalizer that sunk the Americans' Olympic hopes, that decision has become even more complicated. Do you throw Johnson back in the goalkeeping cockpit, Maverick-style, or do you give the young keeper time to clear his head? This weekend's away date with Colorado should reveal plenty.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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