It's a "dream come true" for Julian de Guzman to be doing what he does best in his hometown.
The 28-year-old Scarborough native was yesterday unveiled as Toronto FC's first-ever designated player after TFC boss Mo Johnston's determined effort to sign the 40-cap Canadian international finally paid off.
"I'm finally here," said the defensive midfielder, who hasn't lived in Toronto since he was 16 after playing for the Olympique Marseille youth academy and then professionally with FC Saarbrucken, Hannover 96, and Deportivo de La Coruna.
De Guzman practiced with his new teammates and then donned a No. 6 jersey in a press conference with Johnston and interim head coach Chris Cummins.
"All my family's here, and me myself, I'm always here, but always for short visits, so just to know that I'm here for a solid three years or maybe even more and playing soccer, it's a great feeling," de Guzman said in an interview. "It's different (than Europe) but this is what I've always dreamt of doing."
Because of a delay in the required paperwork from Spain, it was unlikely that Guzman would be able to play in today's 4 p.m. TFC vs. Colorado contest at BMO Field.
"There's a clearance from the previous club and from the Spanish federation to show that I'm a free agent and that will allow me to play. That was supposed to come in today but I guess their office was closed because of the time difference," de Guzman said.
That paperwork still hadn't come in by 6.30 pm Friday night.
"I would love to play, that's why I'm here, but at the same time since I haven't really been (playing) since the Gold Cup (in July), it makes sense to train a solid week with TFC and get used to the guys."
Financial terms for the 3.5-year deal weren't disclosed, but TFC director of soccer Mo Johnston said de Guzman is committed to the Reds.
"There is no buyout clause within the contract," Johnston said. "Julian's put his heart on his sleeve and he wants to be home and he's here for three and a half years. Hopefully we can keep him longer."
After becoming the first Canadian ever to play in Spain's top-flight La Liga in 2005 — home to the powerhouses Real Madrid and FC Barcelona — de Guzman was named Deportivo's player of the season in 2008. However, his contract expired last season and since then he's been without an employer although several teams have courted him. De Guzman was also named the CONCACAF Gold Cup MVP in 2007.
His younger brother Jonathan de Guzman plays for the Dutch side Feyenoord and after taking out Dutch citizenship in 2008, is expected to be called up by the Dutch national team. Brit tabloids in 2008 referred to the younger de Guzman as the Dutch version of the England international Owen Hargreaves, another Canadian-born player who shunned the Canucks to play for another country.
The designated player rule in Major League Soccer allows each team to sign one big name player outside of salary cap regulations. It's how the LA Galaxy enlisted David Beckham's services and how Seattle Sounders FC nabbed Freddie Ljunberg.
But unlike other aging veterans, the relatively young de Guzman isn't treating the MLS like a lucrative retirement home, Johnston indicated. "He's not 33, 34 years old and just coming home looking for a paycheque," Johnston said. "He could've stayed in Europe, but we pursued him for six or seven months and we made it happen. We think it's a wonderful signing."