CHESTER, Pa. – Yes, Danny Califf is returning to the area where he grew up and got his start in Major League Soccer.
No, it’s not somewhere he wanted to go.
Califf – who was traded by the Philadelphia Union to Chivas USA on Thursday for Michael Lahoud and allocation money – admitted he was “dumbfounded” when first told by manager Peter Nowak about a possible trade to either Chivas or Toronto.
The ex-Union captain then told Nowak if he was dealt, he would prefer to move back to California, as opposed to Toronto, with his wife and three children. But at no point, Califf noted, did he ever say he wanted to finish his career in his home state, which is something Nowak indicated when he revealed the trade had been completed Wednesday.
“We certainly did not want to leave Philadelphia by any stretch of the imagination,” Califf told MLSsoccer.com. “When it was presented the way it was, between Toronto and LA, of course we are going to choose LA because that’s our home. But did we ask for it? No.”
As the first captain in franchise history and the anchor of the defense, the tattooed center back quickly became beloved by Philly’s blue-collar fans for his physical prowess on the field and his enthusiastic and honest interaction off it. Last year, he enjoyed arguably one of his best seasons in MLS, helping the Union qualify for their first MLS Cup Playoff berth in franchise history.
This season, however, was a rocky one from the start for Califf, who first saw fellow veterans Faryd Mondragón and Sébastien Le Toux leave town in a preseason of upheaval and then butted heads with Nowak over being sidelined for a couple of early games to recover from offseason knee surgery.
Throw in a lingering hamstring injury and the 32-year-old defender missed five of the club’s first nine games, after sitting out just three total contests in his first two years in Philly.
“We’ve had some issues before but we’ve been able to hammer those out with good talks,” Califf said of his relationship with Nowak. “I think it was a surprise to me that it came to that. We had our issues but I felt we worked through them and I felt that it was fine.”
Califf did give credit to Nowak for keeping him abreast of the trade talks but still admitted surprise that the club even considered dealing him and certainly felt frustrated as the trade talks stalled throughout much of the week as his fate rested in limbo.
He felt he did a lot for this city and franchise – but not as much as they did for him.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more about the city, about the fan base, about my time here,” said Califf, whose first five MLS seasons were with the Galaxy. “It’s been unreal. What California kid is presented with an opportunity to go back to California would rather stay in Philly? But that’s the way it was.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.