Vancouver Whitecaps made a big splash on Tuesday with the signing of Philadelphia Union forward Sebastien Le Toux. The arrival of the 28-year-old Frenchman came as a surprise given the depth the Whitecaps currently have in attacking positions, but it's certainly an addition that has the potential to pay big-time dividends.
In Le Toux they get a player who not only knows where the net is, but also makes a habit of providing for other players around him. He's an ideal fit for the preferred 4-3-3 formation of Whitecaps new Head Coach Martin Rennie, and will provide another physical presence in attack alongside Eric Hassli. Just as important is the fact that he's a strong character with a relentless work ethic.
"Sebastien is a proven goalscorer and playmaker in Major League Soccer," said Rennie. "He is a durable, fit, and speedy attacker, who is capable of playing either up front or wide in midfield. We're delighted to bring Sebastien back to the Pacific Northwest and add another quality player to our squad."
The last couple of years have seen rejuvenation for a player who was left unprotected by Seattle Sounders FC in the MLS Expansion Draft ahead of the 2010 season. He was snapped up by Philadelphia Union and has never looked back. In his first season with the club he found the net 14 times and added 11 assists. He was named an All-Star and also secured a spot in the MLS Best XI.
In 2011 he started all of Philadelphia's 34 league matches, scoring 11 goals and registering nine assists. The season started slowly for the forward with just one goal scored in almost five months of play, but the form in which he finished the year proves that when he's in a confident mood he can be one of the very best strikers in the league. He scored 10 goals in the final 12 matches of the year, playing an integral role with the Union securing a first-ever berth in the MLS playoffs.
The trade gives Philadelphia the ability to upgrade their own squad using the allocation money they received from the Whitecaps. "While this decision wasn't easy, we are confident that the allocation money we receive will provide the flexibility for us to compile the best possible roster for 2012 and beyond," said Union manager Peter Nowak when announcing the move.
The move sees Le Toux move back out West where he starred for Seattle at the second division level after spending the early years of his career playing in his native France. He recently returned from a one week trial with English Premier League club Bolton Wanderers.
For the Whitecaps, the signing provides them with attacking depth that would be the envy of most MLS clubs, and Rennie's formation certainly allows for much flexibility within the attacking ranks. However, it's likely someone will have to make way.
Le Toux joins a long list of players already fighting for a starting position up front. With Hassli, Atiba Harris, Camilo, Darren Mattocks, Omar Salgado and Long Tan plus the attacking midfield options of Davide Chiumiento and Lee Ngwyen, the 'Caps already had an extremely impressive cast even before Le Toux's signing.
The question now is whether or not Rennie will keep all of those forwards with the club. In a long MLS season that could also see many additional games in the Amway Canadian Championship and CONCACAF Champions League, depth is crucial. But so is maintaining a happy ship, and it seems an incredibly difficult job to keep all of those players satisfied.
If Rennie is in the mood to trade, there would be plenty of interest from within MLS for his players, and there is always the option of allowing one of the younger players such as Salgado or Tan to leave on loan to get the valuable playing time they need to improve.
Le Toux's arrival is the latest in an impressive string of moves made by Vancouver. Along with bolstering his attack, Rennie has moved quickly to assemble a squad that addresses the main weakness from 2010, the defence. The Whitecaps should be much stronger at the back with the arrival of Argentine central defender Martin Bonjour alongside Jay DeMerit and South Korean star YP Lee slotting in at right back. They also have Carlyle Mitchell to call upon.
Rennie has certainly made an impressive start to his rookie year as an MLS Head Coach, and the addition of Le Toux could very well be the difference that sees the Whitecaps capable of making the post-season in a very strong Western Conference.