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Toronto FC defender Califf retires

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The Canadian Press
7/12/2013 6:11:25 PM
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TORONTO -- Toronto FC continued to clears its decks Friday, announcing the retirement of veteran defender Danny Califf.

The 33-year-old former U.S. international, who had mysteriously plummeted down the depth chart in his first season in Toronto, said it was time to put family first given his faltering position with the MLS club.

"Do I really want to train every day knowing that I am not in the coach's plan to play, as well as knowing you are taking your kids and family away from their friends and other family? The answer is no," the California native said in a poignant farewell letter on the club's website.

Califf's love for his wife and three kids was always plain to see. His body is a canvas, with ink detailing his loved ones.

Califf, who will remain with the team as a scout, becomes the latest in a growing TFC player exodus that is starting to resemble a zombie crowd scene from "World War Z."

He is the 24th player to exit Toronto FC since the end of last season. And he is the sixth of 19 new players through the door since the end of the 2012 campaign to leave (not counting defender Tal Ben Haim who never actually set foot at the club).

Toronto finished 2012 with a league-worst 5-21-8 record. At the halfway point of 2013, its record is 2-8-7.

The remake is far from over. Toronto officials are making like air traffic controllers during this transfer window, trying to land a string of new players.

Given the player turnover (blamed in part on a horrific salary cap situation) and lack of movement up the standings, perhaps it is not surprising that club officials have been more candid in recent days about the rotten foundation they inherited in taking over the league's doormat.

Califf's exit from the field should give Toronto some salary cap relief from his US$165,000 salary, the team's fifth highest (although down from the $275,000 he made in 2012 with Chivas USA). It had proved to be a hefty price for a player who saw just 354 minutes of MLS action.

Next up for resolution is likely backup 'keeper Stefan Frei, a fomer starter who makes $200,000 although the team will need to find a replacement if it elects to move now rather than wait for his contract to expire. At 18, third-string goalie Quillan Roberts is seen as talented but one for the future.

Califf joined Toronto with much fanfare last December via the league's re-entry draft.

"Danny Califf is a proven defender in our league, and a player with a lot of character," Toronto president and GM Kevin Payne said in a statement heralding the signing. "Our defenders are young and we expect Danny to provide important leadership as we change the culture of our team.

"We're thrilled to have him on our team."

Not blessed with blazing speed, Califf looked to read the game to get where he needed to be to make plays.

If that failed, he went to Plan B. Then playing for Philadelphia, Califf took Julian de Guzman down with a well-placed elbow to the head when the then-Toronto midfielder looked to speed past Califf in TFC's 2010 home opener. Califf was sent off for his crime.

Califf was realistic about his role.

"My job is to win the ball and give it to the guy that gets paid to make the game," he told a coaches seminar in 2011.

At training camp, the tattooed defender usually had a smile on his face and had a bag of ice on his knee. Signed before manager Ryan Nelsen came on board, Califf did not seem to impress the former Premier League defender turned manager.

Califf started the first four league games of the season, then never regained his spot after missing the FC Dallas game with a stomach virus.

The 10-year-MLS veteran found himself off the bench and then out of the matchday squad while club officials pointed to a variety of ailments including another virus, knee and most recently a career-threatening back injury.

Asked this week why the club had not caught wind of the back injury before signing Califf, Nelsen replied: "Obviously the due diligence wasn't there."

Califf has been missing in action for weeks from the club's training ground. Officials finally confirmed recently that he was with his family in California.

In his retirement letter, Califf addressed the various explanations for his absence.

"I am not retiring because I have a career-ending back injury or because I have knee problems or because TFC did no do their due diligence when they signed me in January."

Instead he cited "priorities that reach beyond yourself."

"My family has moved around the world to watch me play the sport I love," said Califf, who uprooted his family to Denmark earlier in his career. "Now, I get to watch my three kids play the same sport that has given me so much."

Califf's letter explains some things, but not how he fell down the team's depth chart so fast.

In just weeks, he went from being the starting centre back to No. 5 behind Darren O'Dea, Steven Caldwell, Doneil Henry and Gale Agbossoumonde.

It was Agbossoumonde who replaced Califf against Dallas in early March when he was stricken by a stomach virus. The young defender, making his MLS debut, performed well and then kept the veteran, who had 211 MLS games under his belt, off the field.

Califf had hoped to regain his starting spot the next week in Philadelphia, where he played 65 games and served as the Union's first captain.

But there was no Hollywood-like comeback in front of friends and family. Califf was rooted to the bench at PPL Park. He didn't complain but his disappointment was evident.

Califf, who likes to surf, strum a guitar and enjoy the outdoors with the family, has said a favourite family pastime was packing the car and hitting the road.

He had hoped Toronto would be a new adventure. Sadly not.

Danny Califf  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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