America loves a pioneer, and as French forward Sebastien Le Toux has discovered, the rewards for risk-takers in the States can be great. A relative unknown on joining the USL, North America’s second professional tier, in 2007 after two seasons with French outfit Lorient, Le Toux now enjoys star status in MLS with his new club, Vancouver Whitecaps.
“I’m happy to have been in the USA for the past five years,” the current longest serving French ambassador in MLS told FIFA.com. “I’ve done nothing but progress and take steps forward since I’ve been here and, honestly, I hadn’t expected such success.”
Le Toux won the Coupe Gambardella, alongside Yoann Gourcuff, with Rennes in 2003, and spent two seasons in Ligue 2 with Lorient before deciding to move across the pond. After an unsuccessful trial with FC Dallas, the Normandy native joined the Seattle Sounders in the USL. A right-back by trade, Le Toux converted himself into a forward on joining the Sounders and made an instant impact, scoring 10 league goals in his first season.
After being voted the league’s best player in 2008, Le Toux continued to make the most of his stamina and ability to cover ground, establishing himself as a favourite among the Sounders fans. “I used to play up front happily when I was 12, but I spent my whole career in France in defence,” said the Frenchman, who plays for the Canadian club alongside compatriot Eric Hassli. “I was taken by surprise at first, but such is the style of play here that I quickly found my feet.”
Blessing in disguise
Le Toux has settled quickly at his new club, scoring three goals in ten outings for the Whitecaps after two superb seasons with Philadelphia Union. But having been such a central figure for the Union, with 26 goals between 2010 and 2011, how did he end up in British Colombia? “I had just returned from the pre-season break and I wanted to extend my stay at Philadelphia,” the forward explained. “The club’s directors asked me to go for a trial with Bolton, however, but I didn’t want to as I wasn’t fit. I came back [from the trial] after a week, at which point I found out that they were sending me to Vancouver.”
“I think it was for financial reasons; it was my last season and they didn’t want to offer me the new contract that I’d been asking for,” said Le Toux, reflecting on his departure. Philly’s loss was Vancouver’s gain, however, as the Frenchman would go on to open his goalscoring account just four minutes into his debut in March. Le Toux describes his departure as a “blessing in disguise” and has clearly been won over by his new Canadian employers, who recently joined the North American top flight and appear to have the goods to back up their ambition.
‘MLS improving every year’
“The stadium is large and well-located, as it’s right in the centre of town,” said Le Toux, originally from Mont-Saint-Aignan in northern France. “With good results the crowds become larger and more passionate, and we play in front of 15-20,000 fans. It’s still not quite the same as in Seattle, where there’s a huge football culture and the stadium is full for every match, but it’s starting to pick up. There’s great potential to achieve something fantastic.”
“The group has the perfect mix of youngsters and older players, like me,” added Le Toux. “Everyone is finding their place and we’re starting to become aware of our qualities. There are lots of talented players in this team and things are starting to come together.”
Vancouver are fourth in the Western Conference, and four successive wins have put them right among the challengers to reach the championship’s grand finale in the autumn. Le Toux has never won the MLS Cup but, at the age of 28, a winner’s medal this year would be just reward for one of the best ambassadors for French football currently in the North American league.
“After the two good seasons I've just had, more people in France know my name and about my experience in MLS,” said Le Toux, holder of a green card for permanent US residence since August 2010. “It’s great to be able to show other players, who may be tempted [to move to the USA], that there are opportunities here. It hasn’t always been easy for me, and I’ve had to work hard and be patient to get to where I am today.”
France and Europe may feel far away for Le Toux, but the Whitecaps forward is more convinced than ever that he made the right choice five years ago. “MLS is getting better every year in terms of its infrastructure, organisation, players and coaches,” he said as the interview concluded. “I’ve been here long enough to have noticed the difference. It’s great to see the development and I’m sure the league will continue to grow in the years to come.”