Vets Califf, Le Toux force behind Union success


CHESTER, Pa.In their most recent game, the Philadelphia Union featured one of the youngest lineups in Major League Soccer history, starting seven players under the age of 23.

For those who follow the Union closely, that shouldnt have come as too much of a surprise; the second-year franchise has always stressed the importance of youth and player development.

But its also crucial not to forget the seasoned veterans who have helped guide those youngsters through all the ups and downs of the MLS season. And through it all, there have been two players, above all else, that have been the pillars of this clubs from the first day of the first season:

Danny Califf and Sbastien Le Toux.

I think theyve both played every single minute theyve been available, and theres a reason for that, said Phillys top assistant coach, John Hackworth. Theres a reason so many young kids need to understand what those two guys have done over the course of their careers so they can reach that place where they are so vital to the team for every play.

Its hard to think of two better cornerstones to a burgeoning franchise than Califf and Le Toux. In addition to playing just about every moment of every game for the past two seasonstheyve logged nearly 10,000 minutes between themthe two have provided invaluable skill and fortitude on both ends of the field.

Califf, a 31-year-old center back, has anchored the defense to nine shutouts this year after captaining the club in their inaugural 2010 season, while Le Toux, a 27-year-old striker, has been far and away the clubs best offensive threat with 21 goals and 20 assists over the past two years.

I think absolutely if youre trying to draw up a recipe for success, in my opinion its almost impossible to do it without having veteran leadership, Hackworth said. Certainly Danny and Sebastien exemplify that kind of leadership on the field, especially when you look at the roster we had out there this past Saturday.

Perhaps the best thing Phillys young players can learn from Le Toux and Califf is maintaining a good attitude, even trough trying times.

After a brilliant 2010 season in which he led the team with 14 goals and 11 assists, Le Toux just couldnt find the back of the net for most of this year, failing to score from the run of play until a Sept. 3 game against Real Salt Lake.

Fans were puzzled by it and reporters hounded him about it. But Le Toux remained perpetually upbeat, smiling in the locker room and joking around with teammates. Heres one exchange from earlier in the season when Le Toux, as he sometimes does, acted like a reporter during a press conference:

Le Toux, studying a piece of paper and raising his hand from the back of the interview room: Is it true after you stopped Cristiano Ronaldo in the Real Madrid game, you said youre the best left back?

Gabriel Farfan, up on the podium: I didnt say that but I did say I could stop Seba any time.

Le Toux, deadpanning: Who is Seba?

All the while, whenever someone asked him about his scoring slump, Le Toux would say the goals would come and they would come at the right moment. Now? The Frenchman might just be the hottest player in the league with six goals in the past six gamesand he still has a smile on his face.

And then theres Califf, whos had to overcome a little bit of adversity while in Philadelphia, as well.

Last season, the Union were, quite simply, a poor defensive team, and, as the captain and organizer of the backline, Califf took perhaps the brunt of the criticism.

It wasnt easy.

I dont think I outwardly showed it but I was certainly disappointed, Califf admitted. It was one of my most frustrating seasons as a pro.

But the veteran defender said he refocused himself for the 2011 season, didnt entertain any hurt feelings when the team stripped away his captaincy in favor of new goalie Faryd Mondragn and worked hard to turn the Union from a fledgling expansion team to a playoff-caliber squad.

Now, with six games left in the regular season, starting with Fridays clash vs. Sporting Kansas City (8:30 pm, Fox Soccer Channel), the Union (9-7-12) are in very good playoff position, thanks in part to a superb season from Califf.

Its always a clich to say team success supersedes personal success, Califf said, but I think its certainly the case when we play better as a unit, it makes it easier on us in the back.

And when Le Toux and Califf are playing welland, perhaps most important, staying positiveit makes it easier on Union fans everywhere.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for and writes a weekly Union column for E-mail him at

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