“And the feel that the players are holding up their bit on the field.”
Toronto fans have already seen Califf’s commitment. In Toronto’s 2010 home opener, Califf took Julian de Guzman down with a well-placed elbow to the head when the then-Toronto midfielder looked to speed past Califf – then wearing his hair in a mohawk – and go after on the ball.
Califf was sent off.
Toronto, then in the midst of its opening losing streak, went after Califf when Philadelphia was shopping him around early last season. Califf was widely quoted as asking to go to Chivas, another team interested, over Toronto although Earl Cochrane, TFC’s director of team and player operations, has diplomatically suggested that his club may not have been able to meet the Philadelphia asking price.
Califf, not one to dissemble, says people can think what they like.
“It really had nothing to do in the end with Toronto at all. It was a chance for me to go home, live in my own house, live within five miles of everybody in my extended family and play in front of them again after I hadn’t done so in eight years. And I was getting a chance to play for two guys that I had played with (then Chivas coach Robin Fraser and assistant coach Greg Vanney).”
Califf and wife Erin grew up in the city of Orange, about 30 kilometres southeast of Carson where Chivas and the Galaxy both play.
After leaving the Galaxy, they had rented out their house. In coming to Chivas, they were able to move in again.
“So it really felt like a bit of a homecoming,” he explained.
A father of three – daughter Paige is nine while Blake is seven and second son Jude turns four on New Year’s Eve – Califf likes to surf, strum a guitar and enjoy the outdoors with the family.
A favourite pastime is packing the car and heading out on a family adventure. Over these holidays, that included visiting friends in Colorado and hitting the slopes.
Califf plans to leave his family in California until the summer when the school year is over and then bring them north.
The tattooed defender – he has sleeves on both arms and his kids’ names on his torso – is open to new experiences. That triggered four seasons in Denmark, first with Aalborg and then Midtjylland, from 2006 to 2009.
“I left for Denmark when I was 25 and I came into a team that was extremely young, the youngest team in the league and so at 25 I was kind of forced to become more of a leader and mature in that respect,” he said.
He went on to captain Aalborg and then the expansion Philadelphia Union when he returned to MLS in 2010. He has also served as skipper for the U.S. national team.
As a centre back, organizing comes with the territory, Califf says.
“So I feel like it’s my job – both on and off the field – to put people in the right places and try and make the guys around you better,” he explained. “That’s something I take very seriously on the field, but off the field as well. But also I think it has to come within character too.
“I’m not going to try and be something that I’m not. I’m not a huge rah-rah guy within the locker-room. I try and lead by example. Certainly off the field I don’t want to be a guy that’s preaching or anything like that. Because I never enjoyed that as a player when I was younger.”
Califf says he loved his time in Philadelphia, praising both the team’s locker-room and fans. But constant turnover took its toll and Califf eventually became part of the exodus.
“I was a little bit surprised,” he said of his departure from the Union, “but things between myself and (then manager) Peter Nowak had been deteriorating.