The most popular player in Union history has returned to the team again, and this time it's for the last time as a player. Sébastien Le Toux will sign a one-day contract with the team Tuesday to confirm his retirement from playing after 14 years as a pro.
"Philadelphia is where I had the most opportunities on and off the field," Le Toux said in a statement posted on Instagram Monday afternoon. "It is where I found career success with the Philadelphia Union, met my wife, and found my forever home with friends, family, and fans that have become family."
He added that he plans to settle again in the Philadelphia region and work in the local youth soccer scene.
Le Toux, 34, will become the first inductee into the Union's new Ring of Honor at Talen Energy Stadium. The ceremony will be held on June 23, when the Union play the Vancouver Whitecaps — the team to which the Union controversially traded Le Toux at the height of his popularity here.
There will be well-earned jokes about how the Union haven't done much to deserve a Ring of Honor. But if anyone should be the first inductee, it's Le Toux.
A native of Mont-Saint-Aignan, France, he was one of the Union's original players, having come here from the Seattle Sounders in the Union's expansion draft. He spent six seasons with the Union as a forward and winger: 2010 through 2011, and 2013 through half of 2016. His total of 175 games with the team is the most of any player.
(Coincidentally, Le Toux signed his first MLS contract with the Sounders exactly 10 years to the day before he announced his retirement with the Union.)
In his first two seasons here, Le Toux scored 26 of his club-record 53 goals. The first three of the 26 came in a hat trick in the team's first home game. He scored 14 goals in all in 2010, a club record until C.J. Sapong broke it last year.
The last of the 26 was the team's first playoff goal, and its only goal in a home playoff game — mainly because that's still the Union's only ever home playoff game.
Le Toux endeared himself to fans off the field, as well. He made many appearances at community events and informal gatherings of the Sons of Ben supporters club. He was, and remains, one of the only players in Union history to be well-known among local sports fans, not just soccer fans.
After the 2011 season, Le Toux got a tryout with English club Bolton Wanderers but didn't earn a deal — in part because he left early with a foot injury. He came back to town and tried to negotiate a contract extension with the Union, but then-manager Peter Nowak didn't want to keep him here, so the team traded him to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Nowak said the move was made to free up money to buy the contract of young midfielder Roger Torres, who initially came to Philadelphia on a loan deal.
Le Toux was irate. He told the Delaware County Daily Times soon after the deal that he was "sad because of the way I was treated" and "disgusted" with the team.
"It had gotten to the point where I said to them, to Nick [Sakiewicz, the team's CEO at the time], to Peter, to everyone, 'Just give me a contract and I will sign it,'" Le Toux said at the time. "I wanted to stay in Philly. I didn't care about the money."
Le Toux notably didn't have an agent back then to help his cause. And of the field, he had to leave behind his longtime girlfriend in West Chester.
As that Instagram post said, times were not always easy.
After spending half of 2012 in Vancouver, Le Toux was traded to the New York Red Bulls. It was hard enough for Union fans to stomach Le Toux's leaving in the first place, and even harder to watch him play for their team's biggest rival.
Worst of all, none of the Union's players that year came close to matching the 11 goals Le Toux had scored in 2011 — never mind the 14 he had scored in 2010. Jack McInerney was the team's top scorer with eight, midfielder Gabriel Gomez was second with six, and Freddy Adu had five.
Remember Lionard Pajoy? He had five, too. How about Josué Martinez? He had just one. Or Jorge Perlaza? He had zero. Danny Mwanga and Chandler Hoffman, both Union draft picks with once-promising futures, also had zero.
Le Toux's contract ran out after that season, and he still wanted to come back to Philadelphia. This time, he got his wish, as the Union reacquired him in a trade with the Red Bulls in December 2012.
There was a sense, though, that the move was made as much for marketing purposes as soccer ones. It didn't help that he scored just three goals in 25 games in 2013, playing at times as a center forward and at times as a winger. He did provide 12 assists, though.
In 2014, Le Toux looked like his old self again, scoring 12 goals and adding seven assists. But in 2015, he had just eight goals and six assists. In 2016, he had just two goals and five assists in 13 games, at which point the Union traded him to the Colorado Rapids. This time, fans weren't as sad to see him go.
After the 2016 season, Le Toux moved back to the East Coast to sign with D.C. United. He played 16 games in the 2017 season, then agreed to a mutual contract termination with the team in mid-August. He has not played in a professional game since.