In what might go down as one of the most bizarre trades in the history of Major League Soccer, defender Danny Califf was the star of the Union’s latest mini-drama.
In fact, his deal completed the trilogy of daytime dramas starring former Union players. Remember “Oh Michael Orozco Fiscal, where art thou?” and who can forget January’s Academy Award winner: “A Le Toux scorned.”
I’m not sure what to call Califf’s tale of woe, but if I were to ask him for a working title, it probably would be one laced with expletives and disdain for a club he poured 2 1/2 years of blood, sweat and an offseason knee surgery into.
Califf’s version of the story, told first to the Daily News, is one riddled with angst and sleepless nights and devoid of wife Erin, who, when informed by her husband of his off-again, on-again trade situation, became “a wreck on the other line, 3,000 miles away.”
According to Califf, 32, he was told by Union boss Peter Nowak that along with Chivas, lowly Toronto FC also wanted his services. And that given the choice to weigh the two options it was a no-brainer.
But that wasn’t the issue here.
The issue for Califf was listening to Nowak on Wednesday spin the story his captain was eager to return to California to continue his MLS career where it began 12 years ago while a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy.
“It made me want to throw up,” said Califf.
But while he repeatedly admitted that Nowak kept him in the loop, Califf said it still felt like being kept in the dark, at the same time.
“I think Peter was forthcoming in the fact that there were rumors, offers or whatever for a trade,” said Califf. “Between myself and Toronto and to be fair to him he did tell me about the offers. But at that point, how do you take that? Your coach is telling you there’s offers, but there are offers all the time so the only way you can take that is they were looking to get rid of me.”
Califf, however, remained mum until the dust settled late Thursday when it was announced that in return, the Union received allocation money and midfielder Michael Lahoud, a player joining an already crowded pool of young talent in the center of the park.
Don’t tell me this move wasn’t all about the Benjamins, especially with July’s summer-transfer window looming.
“Change is never easy and when you give your heart to something and much of yourself, and it all gets ripped out from under you, that part of yourself is essentially ripped away,” said Califf. “It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a scab and then ripping the Band-Aid off over and over and over again. I understand that these types of trades happen in professional sports all the time, I mean I am not stupid to this fact, but we were just in a really good place as a family [here in Philadelphia] and that’s why it hurt so bad.”
The Union pawning Califf lifts his six-figure salary off the books but it also removed one of the few outspoken personalities in the locker room. Califf was a leader as much on the field as off, visiting hospitals and reading books at schools and known to have a pint or two with supporters. It’s even rumored that during his end of days here in Philadelphia, he did the latter at a local pub.
“There was plenty of drama in Philly, plenty of stuff that doesn’t need to get rehashed, and a lot of that involves me unfortunately,” said Califf. “But I’m just trying to realize this situation, get my feet under me and wrap my head around the fact that I am walking into a locker room full of faces I don’t know.”
The whole deal was one for the bizarro-files, as in spite of the trade pending only approval from Major League Soccer, according to Nowak, Chivas USA coach Robin Fraser and Goats general manager Jose Domene saw things a lot differently. After getting wind of Nowak’s comments Wednesday, Fraser and Domene were seen leaving a morning training session in haste, with Domene telling an ESPN reporter that the two “have to put out a fire.”
The fire appears to be that while Nowak believed Califf was on his way, Fraser hadn’t read all the fine print, and according to an ESPN report, there was no deal yet at the time of Nowak’s presser. Though he admitted talks were ongoing, Fraser seemed miffed that Nowak would make such information public before things were finalized.
“At this point I would say … I guess until any deal is done, you can’t say for sure,” Fraser said. And when asked at the time if Califf would even join Chivas, he added, “I am not sure how to answer that, to be quite honest. I hate to be evasive, but I can’t say more than that. We are very much in a discussion with them.”
Except pending league approval, according to Nowak, the deal between the two sides was wrapped and on Wednesday (barring official announcement) Califf became the last non-rookie Union original to leave the locker room in exchange for a player to be named and “something else,” according to Nowak.
So why the secrecy from Chivas? That in itself was a mystery and a whole other column…
Perhaps the one person who played it smart in all this was Califf. When I reached out to him via text earlier this week, he responded only by saying: “I know I said I would talk, please don’t think I am dodging or ignoring you. Thank you, Danny.” It was perhaps the savviest play in this whole fiasco considering he’s the one caught in the thick of it. Erin Califf didn’t share her husband’s sentiment and posted on the Union’s Facebook page: “My husband DID NOT WANT to be traded — The Truth” after the reports of what Nowak said Wednesday got out. The post was later taken down.
The dust has settled on this situation, and in retrospect, with minimal damage. But it’s hard to deny that this is yet another occasion involving the Union where the transition hasn’t been seamless. When asked if he saw any similarities in the way he and many other former Union players took their final exits, Califf quipped: “The only difference is that my exit took a few days longer.”
Contact Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org