That bull’s eye on Toronto FC’s collective back just got a whole lot bigger.
The Major League Soccer club continued its amazing off-season overhaul Friday when it announced it signed Brazilian and Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper Julio Cesar on loan for the entire 2014 campaign.
Cesar, 34, was officially unveiled by TFC to local media at the club’s Downsview training facility on Friday afternoon. News of Cesar joining Toronto was first reported by Brazilian media outlet O Globo last week, and was later confirmed by Sportsnet with confirmation from multiple sources. Cesar will fly this weekend with TFC to Florida, where the team will continue its pre-season preparations until the end of the month.
This is a major coup for Toronto, who will have the Brazilian national team’s starting goalkeeper serve as its man between the posts at the start of the regular season before he goes off to the World Cup in June.
“Any time you have a chance to bring on someone with [Cesar’s] type of pedigree, you take it,” general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said.
Bezbatchenko did not share any details of how the club structured the deal in compliance with the league’s salary cap rules. Cesar is said to be earning £90,000 a week, and Bezbatchenko did not confirm if QPR is still paying Cesar’s contract while he’s on loan at TFC.
Cesar was QPR’s starting goalkeeper last season in the Premier League, but has struggled for playing time in the current Championship campaign, as Hoops manager Harry Redknapp has preferred Robert Green—the Englishman has started all 29 league games for QPR, while Cesar has seen action in one FA Cup match.
Before moving to England in 2012, Cesar helped Italian outfit Inter Milan win five Serie A titles, as well as the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League crown. It was in Italy that the Brazilian really flourished, establishing himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
Before joining TFC, Cesar had other options, including an offer from Brazilian club Gremio, but decided to come to MLS in part due to TFC coach and former QPR teammate Ryan Nelsen.
“When I talked to Ryan, he told me it would be a good situation for me because I could come here and I’d have an opportunity to play,” Cesar said in Italian.
Cesar has earned 77 caps for Brazil, and started all five games for his country on home soil last summer as the Seleção won the FIFA Confederations Cup. A move to Toronto will see Cesar to playing first-team soccer, keeping him sharp and match fit ahead of the World Cup to be staged in Brazil.
Cesar doesn’t consider himself as a “summer rental,” though, seeing himself playing out the entire 2014 MLS season with Toronto, instead of walking away after the World Cup.
“People might think I came here just to play ahead of the World Cup, but it’s not true. I came here because this is a good league, and I want to win here. Wherever I go, I try to win. After the World Cup is over, I can see myself coming back here to Toronto, and helping them try to win a championship,” Cesar said.
Cesar joins fellow Brazilians Gilberto and Jackson at TFC, both added in the off-season. He’s also the latest in the number of marquee players the club has brought in ahead of the 2014 MLS campaign, including the aforementioned Gilberto, English forward Jermain Defoe and American midfielder Michael Bradley—all three of whom were signed to Designated Player contracts.
Some team officials from around the league have quietly fumed over TFC’s rebuilding project—the club has reportedly spent over $100 million in transfer fees and salaries—to land their three new designated players, feeling this kind of spending spree will force other teams to spend big, too. Now the Reds have added a top goalkeeper in Cesar, which will no doubt fuel further resentment more and make TFC the opponent that every team will be gunning for this season.
The former Inter Milan’s arrival in Toronto is somewhat curious, especially after Nelsen heralded the play of keeper Joe Bendik in 2013.
Bendik won the starter’s job away from Stefan Frei (who was dealt to Seattle this off-season), and was one of the few bright spots on a TFC side that finished the 2013 MLS campaign with a dismal 6-17-11 record and failed to qualify for the playoffs for a seventh consecutive year. Bendik earned a modest $46,500 US last year, and was subsequently rewarded with an improved contract on the strength of his solid season with the Reds.
With Cesar in town, Bendik will likely serve as the team’s backup goalkeeper, with Chris Konopka dropping down to number three. What this means for current third-stringer Quillan Roberts is unclear—one option might be loaning the young Canadian goalkeeper to the Reds’ USL affiliate, the Wilmington Hammerheads.
Whatever reshuffling may come, signing Cesar was too good an opportunity for Toronto to pass up.
“This is not about addressing a need. It’s about continuing to add to our strong stable of goalkeepers,” Bezbatchenko said. “[Our other] goalkeepers will see the opportunity to learn from one of the world’s best players.”