Danny Califf retires

Photo: Earl Gardner

Former Philadelphia Union captain Danny Califf is retiring, Toronto FC announced Friday.

Califf, 33, will become a scout for Toronto, who he joined as a player prior to this season.

Califf started at center back in Toronto’s first four matches, from which the team took five points. Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen benched Califf after he reportedly missed a game with a stomach virus and didn’t play Califf again in a regular season game. Toronto has taken just eight points from 13 regular season matches since then. Califf left the club for personal reasons last month as rumors abounded regarding a pending trade to Philadelphia that never materialized.

Califf said he wasn’t retiring due to injuries.

“The reason for my retirement is because when you are 33 years old and have played 14 years at a professional level, you start to have priorities that reach beyond yourself,” Califf wrote in a letter posted on Toronto’s web site. “Do I really want to train every day knowing 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 southern California native spent his career in MLS and Denmark, earning 23 caps with the U.S. national team, a league championship with Los Angeles in 2002 and another in Denmark in 2008. He was the first captain in Philadelphia Union history and left the club as one of its most popular players.

“He’s been a very good player and should be proud of what he’s accomplished,” Toronto FC general manager Kevin Payne said. “I’m very pleased that he will continue to be a part of our organization and assist us in building our team for the future.”

Califf’s retirement will clear $165,000 from Toronto’s salary budget and comes just days after the team traded promising midfielder Luis Silva to D.C. United for allocation money. Published reports have indicated Toronto is trying to sign striker Diego Forlan, who won the Golden Ball for scoring the most goals at the 2010 World Cup.


I haven’t seen Califf play this year.

I saw him last year. And he was good. Both for Philadelphia and Chivas USA. Chivas dumped him like they dumped other non-Mexican players.

But surely there are skeptics. After all, Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen wasn’t playing him.

So rather than tell you how Califf fared this season based on something I saw last season, I’ll let observers in Toronto do the talking. They remained baffled as to why Califf wasn’t playing.

  • “Califf was first-choice at centre-back along with Darren O’Dea for the first four games of Toronto’s season. While not fleet of foot, he seemed to have done the job asked.”

— Canadian Press, news agency similar to the Associated Press, May 28

  •  “Veteran defender Danny Califf, brought in for his experience and savvy, has fallen so far down the depth chart you’d need a dredger to find him. Califf’s crime? He missed a game due to a stomach virus, never got his spot back and has dropped to the back of the bus since. He has become a $165,000-a-year bench player, seemingly for no fault of his own.”

— Toronto Star, May 24

  • “Danny Califf, the big off season re-entry draft acquisition, signed to bring some experience, toughness, leadership, all that stuff that can neatly be summed up with the term ‘character’. He may not be the most skilled, or the most athletic, and he may not be exactly what TFC need, but the one thing that seems to be universally agreed on when it comes to his attributes is his character, his willingness to get stuck in, and determination to go for the difficult challenges and win the ball. Also his experience, he’s 33, an MLS veteran who’s been with his share of bad teams. As Califf himself might put it – this isn’t his first rodeo. It’s that experience that would probably be the most valuable thing at this stage as TFC are very clearly a mentally fragile team.”

“… As for Califf? He’s the John Bender of detention – apparently he messed with the bull and got the horns – I do not understand how he’s fallen so far, so fast. Is he that poor in training? Did he insult Nelsen’s sweater vest? Because if not; I do not get why he is not out there in place of Doneil Henry.”

— Waking the Red, SB Nation’s Toronto FC blog, April 29

To this day, nobody outside the Toronto organization understands why Califf wasn’t playing. The club chose instead to continue adding more center backs while burying Califf. Sure, maybe Nelsen decided Califf lost his edge, and maybe he did. But it didn’t sound like it.

After what Califf experienced the last 18 months — between Peter Nowak’s tyranny, Chivas USA’s animus against non-Latinos, and whatever happened in Toronto — it’s entirely understandable that Califf should choose to retire rather than continue on like this, with a wife and small children.

It’s a damn shame though. MLS just lost a quality player and a quality guy, one I suspect can still play the game at a high level. He set the tone for Philadelphia Union’s team culture by embodying everything Philadelphians love in their teams: Hard work, toughness, honesty, class and quality play on the field.

It looks like that trade back to Philadelphia won’t happen after all. But it should have.


  1. Danny was a great guy. He always took time for the kids, especially my son. I hope to see him back in a Union shirt someday in any capacity.

  2. It’s so tragic, the catalyst for this sad event was a napoleonic twat with his head up his ass. I hope Danny finds his way back to the Union one day.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    A class act welcome in Philly at any time.

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