It has been an interesting 2013 for Danny Califf at Toronto FC. He joined the club in the second round of the MLS re-entry draft back in December and was supposed to provide that much needed veteran presence for Toronto's backline. His aging knees slowed him down during preseason but when the MLS campaign got underway fans got a taste of what a central defensive pairing of Califf and Darren O'Dea could do and it was solid for the most part.
Since then, things have gone wrong for the former American international and MLS veteran as he has seen his minutes all but disappear. Part of that has been due to the play of Gale Agbossoumonde and Doneil Henry who have both done well when given the chance to start and have rightly been rewarded with more minutes. Add in the arrival of another veteran presence in Steven Caldwell and even the shift of O'Dea out to left back has not been enough to get Califf into the lineup.
The problem is that Califf was not brought to Toronto to just sit on the bench and provide veteran leadership for the young players in training. He was brought in to start games and help this team win and he is being paid at the level of a top MLS defender so having him out of the lineup is a waste of money that TFC can't really afford.
Califf started Toronto's first four games of the season going the full 90 on three occasions but since that 2-2 draw with the L.A. Galaxy on March 30th he has not gotten a single minute of playing time in league matches. He got the chance to play in the Voyageurs Cup against the Montreal Impact but that is not nearly enough playing time for a player commanding such a high salary.
With all that in mind there has been plenty of speculation about his future at the club. Add in the rash of mysterious injuries which have kept him out of training several times in recent weeks and it would not be much a stretch for fans watching the situation slowly unfold to wonder if his days in Toronto are numbered.
That was all before a pair of reports came out that made Califf's future with TFC look even more uncertain. The first was a report out of Philly that suggested Califf, along with Stefan Frei, was nearly dealt to the Philadelphia Union in a three team deal late last month. The second came out on Tuesday when Sportnet's John Molinaro reported that Califf was absent from training due to personal reasons as the club has allowed him to take time off to return to his home in California.
He has some family and personal matters to deal with, so we gave him the time off," Payne revealed.
Coach Ryan Nelsen said he hopes to have Califf back soon: "He’s just got some stuff at the moment he has to sort out of a personal nature. So we’re just giving him a bit of time."
On Tuesday, Payne claimed TFC isn’t looking to trade or waive Califf, and also said that even if the club could buy him out of his contract, which it can’t, they wouldn’t do that.
It is worth taking the time to read the entire article but those few short paragraphs contain the most important pieces of information. There are any number of reasons why Califf might need to spend time in California as he still has a house there and it is where his family is located. It would be unfair to speculate why he is there or suggest that it has any direct connection to his future with TFC. The simple fact is that there is a chance that Califf really does have personal matters to deal with and this would have happened even if he was getting regular playing time for the club.
It is only when you take this latest report in the context of everything else that it begins to raise further questions about the player's future. As Molinaro points out, the club is not in a position to buy out Califf's contract having already done so with Julio Cesar back in the spring. That leaves them with limited options for moving forward.
If the trade reports are true then it is quite possible that TFC has already exhausted that option. There is likely very few clubs that would be interested in acquiring the services of Califf considering his age, salary cap hit, and the fact that he has barely played in the past two months. The one likely destination seemed to be a return to the Union where he remains a very popular figure but if they did back out of the deal it would likely rule them out as a potential trade partner.
The club could waive Califf but that would only serve to clear up a roster spot because he is almost certainly on a guaranteed contract. He is what the MLS rule book has to say about waiving a player:
Teams may waive players based on performance at any time during the MLS season. Players with guaranteed contracts will continue to have their salary budget charge applied to the team salary budget, subject to any settlement. Players on semi-guaranteed contracts can be waived prior to July 1 of any year and free up the corresponding budget space. If a player on a semi-guaranteed contract is waived after July 1, his salary budget charge will count against the team’s salary budget and the team waiving the player will not receive a replacement except under the normal player acquisition mechanisms. Any settlement amount will be charged to the team’s salary budget.
That basically means that unless TFC can find a trade partner than they are going to be stuck with Califf on the books for the rest of the season. That hit of $165,000 (according to MLS Players Union data) could do a lot of good strengthen the rest of the roster but would be wasted on Califf if he is not going to play again.
If the only factors at play were Toronto FC's interest than the ideal solution would be to find a trade partner to dump Califf and his salary off on or get him back in the starting lineup and get their money's worth. The problem is that Califf's interests also need to be considered. Califf is 33, has dealt with injuries, and has a young family that he would probably like to see more of.
It is possible that Califf would rather bring his career to an end rather than move once again having moved from Philadelphia, to Chivas USA, to Toronto in little over a year. That is pure speculation at this point but any player who is into his 30's and not finding playing time might consider looking towards the next chapter of his career.
There are still a lot of questions about Califf and his future that may be answered in the future but for now one has to wonder what his future in Toronto is.