- Posted: 11:49 AM, July 20, 2012
Last year the Red Bulls traded for Dwayne De Rosario, a sublimely-talented attacker who somehow ended up on three different teams in 2011 because New York couldn’t fit him and wouldn’t pay him, couldn’t fit his game with Thierry Henry and couldn’t fit his desired salary under the cap.
This month, they’ve traded for Sebastien Le Toux, a sublimely-talented attacker who has somehow found his way onto three clubs himself. It remains to be seen if Le Toux can mesh with his star compatriot, and if the Red Bulls can resign him. But the early returns are pretty good on the former.
In two games with the Red Bulls – and essentially the same amount of full practices – Le Toux has a goal and an assist, and several near-tallies as well. He also has a win and a draw, and has a chance to complete a great homestand against his former team Philadelphia Union tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.
“I already played one game with Vancouver in Philly, so it was very special. But now it’s here, and it’s going to be a memory. There’s a lot of competition between the teams; it’s kind of like a firm,’’ said Le Toux, who had 25 goals and 20 assists for the Union in 2010 and 2011.
“But at this age you can’t really think about it; you just try to do the best for your team. I hope Saturday it’s not going to be as hot (as it was Wednesday). But if it is, it’s going to be a tough game. They’re pretty good right now, and we have to be tough and make sure we win the game.’’
Le Toux got traded for a week ago today, in exchange for allocation money and longtime Red Bulls stalwart Dane Richards, who’d been second on the team’s all-time lost in minutes, starts and appearances.
Both GM Erik Soler and Hans Backe said Richards was set on leaving for Europe when his contract expires. And while Le Toux – who has a contract for $145,000 base and $169,000 guaranteed that expires this year – has given them no promises of extending, the Red Bulls also believed they needed to change their attack.
Dane Richards, struggling through an up-and-down campaign, ranked 168th in the latest Castrol rankings. Le Toux was 44th, and has been even better since arriving in New York. After Friday’s trade and with just one light practice Saturday, Le Toux scored in his debut, a 2-2 draw vs. Seattle – another former employer.
That performance landed him at No. 17 for that week’s Castrol charts, with Henry at No. 20; then he set up Henry’s winner Wednesday against Chicago by switching the field with a beautiful diagonal ball in the 71st minute.
“It was exactly what you saw. I made a move, got the ball, great pass; striker instincts,’’ said Henry. And while the captain scored the winner, Le Toux created so many dangerous chances it’s a wonder he didn’t score as well.
There was the 32nd minute when he took down a Henry long ball in full stride, but put his shot just over the crossbar and out. Or the 40th when his bicycle attempt was too strong, sailing into the seats. Or his attempt that got deflected, the Red Bulls appealing in vain for a handball and a penalty. He finally just missed on a late bicycle, the net all but open but the ball just out of his reach.
“I missed a lot, so I can say I can improve a lot with my finishing. I was just happy I created some opportunities today. Thierry scored a great goal so it was great and everybody was happy,’’ said Le Toux. “I’m going to now work on my finishing and I hope to get some more goals on Saturday and win the game.’’
That kind of profligacy is unusual for Le Toux, who has been one of MLS’ most ruthless finishers.
Of the league’s top seven scorers since a year ago today, the Red Bulls now have three in Henry, Le Toux and Kenny Cooper, a trio coach Hans Backe insists can play well together. And Le Toux’ 32.0-percent conversion rate is by far the best of the lot, better than Henry, Landon Donovan or even Chris Wondolowski.
It is clear Le Toux-for-Richards isn’t an equitable player swap. But as a game-changing offensive force – yet still a notch below Face-Of-The-MLS Designated Players like Henry, Donovan and David Beckham – Philadelphia and Vancouver both saw fit to cash in on an asset. It remains to be seen if in New York Le Toux can go from trading chip to building block.