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Matchday 4: The Return of Le Toux

Mar 31, 2012, 1:05 PM EDT

Philadelphia Union Vancounver Whitecaps Sebastien Le Toux returns to PPL Park Peter Nowak Major League Soccer
letoux_vancouver

It’s really a perfect storm for a third-year franchise facing the first real crisis of fan confidence. A tumultuous offseason has been followed by a nightmare 0-3 start. Now, needing a win in the worst way, the most popular and productive player in franchise history returns to the stadium where he became a beloved figure – his new team undefeated and atop the MLS Western Conference table.

Putting the Le Toux drama aside for a moment, the reality is that the Union is desperate to pick up the three points today against Vancouver (4PM/6ABC). This is a team attempting to integrate a new first choice keeper, a new left back who has at times looked overmatched, a new and possibly redundant holding midfielder and two forwards new to MLS. Rationally, in light of all the changes we knew the team would likely struggle at the outset. It’s not so much that they’ve begun the 2012 campaign 0-3 – it’s how they’ve gone about it.
They’ve looked disorganized in the back. Zac MacMath has made multiple game-changing mistakes. Porfirio Lopez has struggled (and that’s being kind). Brian Carroll and Gabriel Gomez, two similar players, have not figured out how to work together. Aside from a brief spell against Colorado (who was playing a man down) the midfield has been non-existent. Although Lionard Pajoy has played fairly well, the forwards as a whole have failed to finish their chances.
This is not to say that the team as currently constituted is destined to finish at the bottom of the table. They’ve yet to develop an identity. The new acquisitions are getting acclimated to a new league. Two presumed starters (Freddy Adu and Sheanon Williams) have spent time away from the club with the US U-23′s. It’s an incredibly long season. There’s a ton of time to right the ship. It’d just be nice to start seeing some positive signs.
The good news is that for the most part Peter Nowak will have a full, healthy side at his disposal. Adu, who played a ton of minutes with the U-23′s last week, likely will not start, but may be in the game day 18. Danny Califf, who has not played the last two weeks, should be fit and ready to rejoin the back line. Speaking of that back line, anyone else in favor of Nowak returning to a back four? I know I am.
As mentioned, Vancouver comes to town undefeated (2-0-1). Much has been written about their attacking options, but their early success has been a result of a defense yet to concede a goal. Goalkeeper Joe Cannon has recorded two of those three clean sheets. Former US international Jay DeMerit is the linchpin of the Whitecaps back line.
The Union will catch a break as Whitecaps forward Eric Hassli, who is nursing an ankle injury, did not make the trip. However, they will have to deal with the tireless running of Sebastien Le Toux. Seba, who scored in his first appearance for Vancouver, will be beyond motivated to show the Union brain trust that they made a major mistake in letting him go.
How will Le Toux be received? I don’t think there’s any question he’ll be given a hero’s welcome by the PPL Park faithful. However, once the game kicks off he’ll be treated as any opposing player would. The will he or won’t he shake Nowak’s hand is a petty sideshow. Granted, Peter Nowak has not handled the Le Toux situation all that well himself, but he was right when he stated that no one player is bigger than the club.¬†
This is a must-win game for the Union. They are playing at home, against a team who has traveled across the continent, in what is sure to be a charged atmosphere. If Danny Mwanga is ever going to be motivated to perform it’ll be today on the same field as Le Toux – the player he’s replaced.
It should be a fantastic atmosphere at PPL Park this afternoon. The Union has 90 minutes to make a statement.
Starting Lineup I’d Like to See: MacMath, Williams, Califf, Carlos Valdes, G. Farfan, Carroll, M. Farfan, Gomez, Torres, Daniel, Mwanga, Pajoy.
Final Score Prediction: Mercifully, the Union earn its first point of the season with a 1-1 draw.