TORONTO — Danny Califf has been kicking around Major League Soccer long enough to know his role by now.
A stalwart and experienced defender, Califf has played for four different MLS teams (LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, Philadelphia Union and Chivas USA) since making his league debut in 2000.
Aside from spending time with Danish clubs AaB Fodbold and FC Midtjylland, Califf also won an MLS Cup with LA (in 2002), was named to the league’s best starting XI (in 2005) and was part of the U.S. national team that won two CONCACAF Gold Cups (2002 and 2005).
So it was hardly a surprise that when the veteran centre back became available in last year’s MLS re-entry draft that Toronto FC scooped him up. The Reds, after all, were coming off a disastrous 2012 MLS campaign that not only saw them finish in last place, but also concede a league-high 62 goals.
Califf, a 32-year-old California native, arrived in Toronto this past weekend, and he’s already talking like a player who will quarterback TFC’s back line and will take the team’s younger defenders under his wing.
That’s why Toronto FC picked him up in the first place. He didn’t need anybody to explain it to him.
"It’s a role that I embrace and it’s an exciting challenge for me to take on. When you get to this stage in (your) career… it’s about building relationships. It’s a great opportunity for me to build some new relationships to hopefully impart some of my experiences to some of the younger guys, without being preachy," Califf said.
"I’ve been fortunate enough to have some pretty incredible experiences and to share some of the knowledge with the younger guys is a tremendous opportunity."
Thus far, Califf has been impressed with the talent level of the club’s youngsters, though he stopped short of singling out specific players.
"I think this team has tremendous youth. The talent is there (with) the young guys but they haven’t necessarily had the right guidance and the right guys to look up to in the locker-room over the past few years," Califf offered.
Having a veteran player on the roster such as Califf should go a long way to addressing one of TFC’s biggest problems: changing the culture surrounding the team.
But that is no small task. In a recent interview with the Canadian Press, former Reds goalkeeper Milos Kocic took a few parting shots following his trade to the Portland Timbers, suggesting that some of his old Toronto teammates didn’t exactly have exemplary attitudes.
"A lot of times (last season) the players were just like laughing after the game. You lose the games and they don’t care," Kocic said.
How does one go about changing the team culture? Califf has some strong views on the subject matter, explaining it starts with players who have character and a solid work ethic.
"In my opinion, what (changing the culture) means is bringing in (players with) the right attitudes; guys who understand that you come to work every day to work, and that every day is a day where you have an opportunity to make yourself better," Califf stated.
"And in that process of making yourself better (you) make the guy next to you better; just that mentality that this is work and that you haven’t made it just because you’re on the team. If you bring those guys that have that experience it rubs off on the young guys."
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Last year was a hectic one for Califf. He began the 2012 MLS campaign with Philadelphia but was traded to Chivas in May. At the end of the season, the LA-based club declined its contract option, and Califf entered the re-entry draft where he was selected by Toronto in December.
"Having gone from the east coast to the west coast and back to the east coast all in one year, with a wife and three kids, I’m not the most popular person in the house," Califf quipped.
Califf was also thrown for a loop when former coach Paul Mariner, who took him in the re-entry draft, was relieved of his duties and replaced by Ryan Nelsen earlier this month.
"I was surprised. If you asked around it probably caught a lot of people by surprise. But after Ryan getting hired, you couldn’t pick a better guy to take the team to the next level. He’s certainly got a ton of ambition and he has something to prove, and I think those two things really light a fire under you," Califf said.
It’s also interesting to note he’s moving from one dysfunctional club (Chivas USA) to another (Toronto FC), although he sees the potential for great things from the Reds.
"I’d hate to compare the two clubs. That’s not fair to Toronto at all," Califf said.
"It’s a challenge to be on the ground floor of a rebuilding process. But I certainly feel having come from the circus that is Chivas USA (that) the right things are happening (in Toronto) and the right moves are going down. I really do feel like we’re getting on the rocket ship just at the right time," Califf stated.