CHIVAS: Califf happy, despite his words
That runs counter to Union manager Peter Nowak's comments as the deal that sent the veteran defender to Chivas USA proceeded this week, but there's more: Califf is ecstatic to be wearing the red and white stripes and happy to be back home.
He's not bipolar, by any means, and he saw no need to explain his sentiments to his new teammates when he joined them for his first training session Friday morning at Home Depot Center.
“I was unhappy with the way it was handled and the way it was said I had asked for a trade. That's what I was unhappy with,” said Califf, 32, who still has a home in Orange, his hometown, although he'll have to pay off his renter to move back in. “I understand trades happen. We were happy in Philly, but by no means does that mean I'm not happy to be here. That's ridiculous.
“It's a new chapter for me and it's going to be a transition, but I'm not worried about what these guys are going to think. After they know me and have been around me for a little bit, they'll know what I'm all about, so I don't have any worries about that.”
Neither does Chivas coach Robin Fraser, whose final year as a player with the Galaxy was Califf's rookie season.
“He's the kind of guy,” Fraser said, “that once he puts the shirt on, he's completely dedicated to where he is.”
Assistant coach Greg Vanney, technical director/head scout Simon Elliott and midfielder Peter Vagenas also played with Califf during his 2000-04 stint with L.A.. Director of Soccer Operations Kevin Esparza was his coach at Orange High School.
“I feel like I'm coming home,” Califf said.
He's done so to provide experience, leadership and bite to a pretty good defensive unit, and his presence, at least on paper, improves Chivas' backline, even with Heath Pearce leaving for New York. Califf's acquisition was to replace Pearce, who was traded Thursday for forward Juan Agudelo.
“I think I can just be me,” said Califf, who reports that his knee and hamstring are fine, that he could have played more than Philly let on, and that he missed the Union's game last week because of the impending trade. “I can try and lead by example and do all the things that I've been doing throughout my career. I'm not going to try to be anyone I'm not. I'm too old to do that.
“I'm excited. I think there's a lot of really cool things going on here now, and a lot of changes have gone on the last couple of years here, and it's exciting to get on that train.”
Califf spent six seasons in MLS, went to Denmark for three, then returned to America for Philadelphia's first season, in 2010. He was team captain that year and this year, but his relationship with Nowak -- a Polish star who captained the Chicago Fire to one MLS Cup title and coached D.C. United to another, then served as U.S. Olympic coach and top national team assistant under Bob Bradley -- was difficult at times.
Nowak claimed Califf's knee, which was surgically repaired during the offseason, wasn't fit enough earlier this year, keeping him out of a couple of games as Califf disputed the report. The coach's actions during the trade -- especially after dealing forward Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver and letting goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon return to Colombia -- have a lot of people around the league wondering what's going on in his head.
“I don't even really have a clear handle on how that situation evolved either,” Califf said. “It was a tough situation. ... I think that there's some uncertainty sometimes with a bunch of different things, so I'm hopping that here I can come and be in a situation that's stable, and the communication lines are going to be open with some people that I've known for a long time and played with, so I'm looking forward to that part a lot.”
Califf said he was informed on Thursday last week that Chivas and Toronto FC had made offers.
“I was a bit dumbfounded, I think,” he said. “I called Peter back later and said, 'Nothing against Toronto, but if you have to trade me, please just don't trade me to Toronto. ... If you're looking at Toronto or L.A., it's a bit of a no-brainer, considering this where I'm from.”
He said he was told several times that the deal was done and then that it wasn't.
“It felt like the longest trade in MLS history to finally unfold,” he said. “It was hard on my family. My wife and kids were here [in Southern California] when I found out, so that phone call was not pleasant.”
Califf was a fan favorite in Philly, which has some of the most passionate and devoted fans in Major League Soccer. He told media in Philadelphia on Thursday that playing for the Union supporters was “God's honest, 100 percent, the highlight” of his time with the club and that he and his family “are really sad to leave. We put down roots. ... I'm sad to leave an area where we really felt comfortable and I really enjoyed playing.”
Part of that was a message to the Union fans, he said.
“I felt I owed it to the fans in Philly that they know that I didn't walk into the office and ask for a trade,” he said. “Even with all the garbage that had gone on over the course of the season with myself and Peter, I felt I owed it to them.”
Now he's ready to transition into a new phase.
“This is home,” he said. “All roads lead back to L.A. Famous Alexi [Lalas, present during the media session] quote from six years ago, that he said to me. It's going to be cool. I'm excited, and especially at this point in my career. I walked out of the hotel yesterday in flip-flops and just smelled the air, and it smelled like home.”