Dichio heads off pitch

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:48 PM ET

In his homeland, Danny Dichio was a journeyman, a burly player who had a successful pro career based largely on hard work and grit.

In other words, a soccer version of Brian Burke's kind of guy.

No wonder, then, that in a hockey-crazed town the personable Englishman, who retired from Toronto FC yesterday, was the fledgling MLS franchise's first fan favourite.

It didn't hurt that the 6-foot-4 striker scored the first goal in team history and is the kind of player Reds general manager Mo Johnston said opponents "hate to play" against. But with a wonky back and aging ankles, the 34-year-old knows his time is up and has accepted a role as a team ambassador and coaching consultant.

"I've had a long, good career in England and maybe this was God's way of saying: 'Give this guy a bit of joy at the end of his career,' " Dichio said of his wild popularity. "Scoring that goal helped me have that admiration and relationship with the fans."

His departure, with six games remaining in the season and the squad in a desperate fight for a playoff berth, even has a hint of taking one for the team.

Dichio's retirement opens up a roster spot to sign coveted midfielder Julian de Guzman. Johnston acknowledged talks with the Canadian international and Scarborough native are intensifying and a deal appears imminent.

Dichio, who leaves as the team's leading scorer with 14 goals in 59 games, forever will be remembered for his first, a strike in the 24th minute of the team's fifth game.

It was among the most celebrated scores of his career, one that prompted delirious fans to fire giveaway cushions on the field. To this day, Dichio is serenaded in the 24th minute of each Reds game to honour the iconic moment.

"It's ingrained in the heads of our fans," Johnston said. "Certain moments with certain teams you will always remember."

Dichio said he has settled into life in Canada with his family, which helped cement the decision to remain.

With limited playing time, Dichio was planning on retiring at the end of this season anyway.

Johnston saw an opportunity for Dichio to contribute in a different way, as the team attempts to reach the MLS playoffs. Dichio will help coach Chris Cummins -- presumably a first task is to help the struggling attack -- but will work with Johnston in scouting and other coaching duties with TFC Academy.

And after a well-travelled career, Dichio finally has found a place to call home in what at one time in his life would have seemed an unlikely place.

"We wanted to put down roots wherever we came," Dichio said of his wife, who is about to deliver their fourth child. "Things went well here on the pitch and moreso off of it."

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos