Julio Cesar is looking for a 16th club to call home.
Toronto FC released the 34-year-old Brazilian midfielder on Friday, saying essentially he was surplus to requirements. Cesar saw action in part of one pre-season game for Toronto before being sidelined with a calf strain.
“It was just unfortunate that with the (other) guys doing so well and (with) some of the young players that we have here, that it was going to be difficult to find him playing time,” manager Ryan Nelsen said after practice.
“And when you’re Julio’s age, he needs to play. We wish him all the best.”
Toronto (1-2-0) hosts the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy (2-0-1) on Saturday at BMO Field.
Nelsen called Cesar a “great guy” and “really good professional” but acknowledged there were philosophical differences, with the Brazilian apparently unwilling to play the Toronto FC way. The manager did not elaborate, but it seems the move to part ways was Toronto’s.
Cesar’s complicated career path would suggest that he is restless.
The Brazilian has played for some of Europe’s top clubs, with stints at Real Madrid and AC Milan. He has also suited up in England, Greece, Honduras, Mexico, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey and the U.S.
Cesar’s signing in Toronto was announced Jan. 15 , one week after Nelsen was named manager but several weeks before he took over the club full time.
“Julio Cesar will be an important part of the backbone of our team in the middle of the field,” Kevin Payne, Toronto president and GM, said in a statement announcing the signing. “He’s a tough, experienced, committed player who was a big part of Sporting Kansas City’s success over the past two years, and we’re very pleased he will be a part of TFC this season.”
Cesar appeared to become even more important in the scheme of things when designated player Torsten Frings announced his retirement during training camp.
The weathered Brazilian looked impressive at the beginning of pre-season, pinging the ball around the field in training.
He played 26 minutes in the pre-season opener against Columbus, a game in which Toronto used 23 players. The calf injury then kept him out of action.
But he had returned to training in recent days and had been expected to challenge for a position.
Things appeared to have moved quickly Friday. Cesar was dressed in training gear prior to practice but did not appear for training, with a club official saying he was attending to personal matters. That was the same excuse provided for Frings’s absence during the pre-season prior to his surprise retirement announcement.
Cesar was seen in street clothes during the practice session but did not speak to the media.
Toronto has used Canadian Terry Dunfield and American Jeremy Hall in centre midfield this season, with Canadians Kyle Bekker and Jonathan Osorio in reserve.
The team has attacking midfield options in John Bostock, Hogan Ephraim, Reggie Lambe and Luis Silva.
Nelsen has said he needs to reinforce central midfield, but it is a testament to the young Canadians that he elected to keep them over Cesar.
The Toronto manager is first and foremost a pragmatist. If he thought Cesar would have made the team better, chances are he would have kept him.
Nelsen’s willingness to do whatever is necessary to improve the on-field product was shown Friday when he shifted Richard Eckersley to left back and inserted 32-year-old Englishman Darel Russell into right back.
Ashtone Morgan, the 22-year-old incumbent left back who had been on Canada duty in Qatar, was moved to the reserve team in training.
Nelsen says the versatile Russell provides experience, athleticism and is technically gifted on the ball.
“I really like to have technical players as my right and left backs,” Nelsen said. “Right and left backs get the ball the majority of the time in most games. ... Darrel is very athletic on the right. And it just give us options”
Morgan might well feel hard done by, given his wheels and ability to deliver a cross. But defensively he remains a work in progress — with his speed helping him make up for some lapses.
“Ashtone is growing and learning,” said Nelsen. “He’s still a young guy.”
On the Galaxy front, striker Robbie Keane is a question mark after suffering a calf strain while on international duty with Ireland. Jack McBean, Mike Magee and Jose Villarreal all saw action at forward in last week’s win over Colorado.
American star Landon Donovan has rejoined Los Angeles after a sabbatical but is not expected to play until early April.
Notes: Toronto anticipates a crowd of 18,000 for the first game of the season at BMO Field. The club averaged 18,155 last season, with capacity around 21,000. ... With the exception of striker Danny Koevermans (knee), Nelsen has a full squad to pick from for the first time this season ... The Galaxy were slated to arrive in Toronto late Friday after practising in Washington, D.C., where they were feted at the White House earlier this week along with the NHL champion Kings. ... Do not adjust your TV sets Saturday, Toronto defender Danny Califf may be wearing peach-coloured Nike boots.