Just when you thought the Philadelphia Union had acquired some key pieces to supplement last year’s playoff team, two unexpected roster moves have left Union fans with questions galore heading into the 2012 season.
This morning, Sébastien Le Toux announced on Twitter that the rumors bubbling forth over the previous two weeks were true. While the French striker/winger will not be headed across the Atlantic to Bolton Wanderers F.C. (where he trialed two weeks ago), he has been traded within MLS to the Vancouver Whitecaps. The terms of the trade have not been disclosed or announced by the Union as of this publication.
This was the second major loss for Philadelphia in the past few days. While some of us were watching the United States Women’s National Team qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, reports surfaced from South America that Faryd Mondragón was being pursued to return to his home club in Colombia, Deportivo Cali. As the weekend progressed, the rumors gained steam, and yesterday the Union officially announced the mutual dissolution of Mondragón’s contract. The former Köln goalkeeper will presumably finish his career in Colombia.
Nobody should fault Mondragón for this move. Any of us who have had to move away from home to pursue their dreams tends to dream of returning home one day. Of course it leaves things a little less certain with respects to the Union defense. Zac MacMath was strong in net while Mondragón healed from a wrist injury last season, going undefeated in 7 matches. Will that mean that the Union entrust him with the gloves to start the 2012 season? MacMath may also be selected for the Olympic team, which could leave the Union with questions later in the summer. They may need a backup keeper they can trust for a few games regardless.
With Mondragón’s sizable salary being wiped from the books, many thought the Le Toux situation had resolved itself with him staying out his contract, up after this season. Instead, the Union have traded their leading scorer to Vancouver. It is not known whether the Union will receive a player in return for Le Toux.
The trade leaves fans and outsiders asking, “Why would the Union do this?” The fact of the matter is that the Union appear to have prepared for this loss. Not only have they brought in Josué Martinez from Deportivo Saprissa, reports suggest they are close to signing another strikers, Lionard Pajoy from Colombia. Those are two international additions to a forward crew consisting of youngsters Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney, and 2012 first round pick Chandler Hoffman.
While they have many options, none of them are as proven, or as beloved by the fan base, as Le Toux. Le Toux did struggle early in the 2011 campaign, unable to find goals in the run of play while playing beside Carlos Ruiz. Only after the Guatemalan striker left did Le Toux find his form. Perhaps with these new signings, the Union didn’t want to chance another slump from Le Toux.
Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention his contract situation. Le Toux was signed back in 2008, as the first MLS player for Seattle Sounders F.C. Based on his play for Philadelphia, he was a veritable bargain. With a team built for the next few years at forward, the writing was on the wall that the Union would not extend his contract. It remains to be seen if the Whitecaps have any desire to extend Le Toux’s stay in British Columbia.
As for the Union, they clearly are going forward with a youth movement. Two players who made up the core of the team are gone. It’s clear that President Nick Sakiewicz and Manager Peter Nowak are entrusting the success of the team to players like MacMath, Mwanga, and Freddy Adu.
2012 is going to be a pivotal year in the progression of the Philadelphia Union.
– UPDATE – The Union have just announced the trade officially, and received allocation money in exchange for Le Toux.
– UPDATE 2.0 – More news that impacts the future of the team. This afternoon, Philadelphia also announced the full transfer of Roger Torres from América de Cali to the Union. Torres is 20 years old, and has shown flashes of being a future playmaker in his loan stint with Philadelphia. Many will remember the goal he scored immediately after coming on in the Union’s 1-0 victory over Red Bull New York in April.