Fan favourite Le Toux's trade highlights big changes at Philadelphia

According to Neil Sedaka, ‘breaking up is hard to do’. That doesn’t seem the case for the Philadelphia Union, who last month traded away Sébastien Le Toux to the Vancouver Whitecaps, much to the dismay of the player and fans.

After heavy speculation that he may be departing the city of brotherly love, Le Toux was offered a trial with Bolton Wanderers – which he cut short after a week, stating his heart was still firmly with the Union. Le Toux also claims he was so attached to the East Coast club that he dropped his salary demands.

Philadelphia failed to make an offer, at which point the player claims his calls and text messages began going unanswered. It all seemed very surprising considering how valuable an asset Le Toux had become. In just two seasons he was involved in 57% of the Union’s goals, costing less than $180,000 a season. With Le Toux an All-Star in his first season and a genuine contender for MVP in 2011, his request for a raise to $400,000 seemed far from exorbitant.

The striker says eventually he no longer cared about the money – which he cites as the club’s sole motivation for trading him. It's far from a clean break: Le Toux was decidedly less vocal about his poor treatment when it seemed likely he would be going to Bolton. While unlikely to damage Phialdelphia’s pre-season plans, it has left the majority of fans uneasy.

Coach Piotr Nowak has looked to defuse the situation by explaining that the club are aiming to build for the future, not just around one player: "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."

Those fine words were hardly matched by Philadelphia's subsequent signings of 30-year-old Colombian Lionard Pajoy and veteran defender Chris Albright, although the wider context is that the club have also been able to give Sheanon Williams a pay rise while acquiring the full rights to Roger Torres – the latter a by-product of the Le Toux deal.

Lost love: Le Toux with the Union fans

As emotions ran high, Nowak notably stated that “Feelings are not in my job description” – a somewhat hard-nosed admission given that Le Toux could have considered himself a cornerstone of the Union, his form towards the end of last season playing a large part in the club's late push towards the play-offs.

The decision to amputate Le Toux so readily could put off players considering a move to PPL Park – especially as at 28, the Frenchman was far from a veteran. Those looking to dissect the deal from a business standpoint believe the club were simply looking to maximise the profit on a player they acquired at an almost minuscule cost.

Le Toux, who began his career with Lorient in his native France, is one of the few professionals that doesn't have an agent, meaning he has spoken very candidly about his exit from the club. Admitting to a feeling of disgust at the way he was treated, he aims his venom squarely at coach Nowak – claiming he would rather retire than play under him again and adding with a hint of Gallic sarcasm, “I’m sorry for the guy who already bought my jersey. Maybe he can get the refund.”

In little over a month's time, Vancouver visit Philadelphia in what is likely to be an emotionally charged afternoon for both the player and fans alike. Le Toux’s aim is simple: “I expect to win and I expect nothing more.”

With goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón also allowed to return to Colombian side Deportivo Cali despite being named an All-Star last season, it seems many of the players that were foundations of the club are departing – and in Le Toux’s case not willingly.

These moves have seen Nowak come in for such heavy criticism from fans that he has appealed via Twitter for a quelling of abusive messages – for the sake of his wife and daughters, who he claims often read his account on the social networking site.

Having now lost two of their most iconic players in the space of a week, the Philadelphia Union are undergoing a remodeling. As with any wholesale change, the risk is high. A bad start could easily see fans longing for the names of the past and happier times.

However, should it pan out the way Nowak is predicting, Philadelphia could be a major player in the arguably weaker Eastern Conference, just not with fan favourite Le Toux around – something few could have envisaged at the start of last month.

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