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Jack: Cesar's dreams come true at Disney World

Kristian Jack
2/22/2014 10:47:49 PM
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Night falls on the final Saturday of February and Julio Cesar is not starting a game once again.

Yet, when he walks out on the field he has a huge smile on his face as he stops to say hello. Julio Cesar is back in his happy place.

His new team, Toronto FC, start their pre-season game against Orlando City FC with him on the bench but he knows it is simply a routine night off from the number one spot he recently inherited.

It is fitting that he is here in Orlando, in the shadows of Walt Disney World, a place that turns dreams into reality for millions every year. Yet, it was one thing to bring joy to the face of a child when they meet Mickey Mouse; it is quite another to bring together a scenario where the Brazilian number one goalkeeper chooses a Major League Soccer franchise, that has won 17 of their last 102 league matches since 2010, to prepare him for the sport's ultimate stage.

From the makers of 'Remember The Titans' and 'Miracle', Disney, we present you with another remarkable sports script, currently taking place in your back garden.

"I am really happy here," Cesar told me in an interview before the match.

How can he not be?

Everyone he left behind in England is sleeping as he trains hard with fellow 'keeper Joe Bendik before the game. Three weeks ago that's where he was, fast asleep dreaming of getting another chance.

At the end of January he lay in his London bed counting down the days to the World Cup and wondering if he would be able to play. The transfer window closed and no offers had come.

"The truth is Toronto is the only team that came after me and gave me the chance to sign - I talked with my agent and I said I need to play because I went eight months without playing."

Cesar stops and apologies for his difficulty with the English language. "My English is really rubbish - everyone in Brazil keeps joking with me about my English. I try and do my best."

The 34-year-old jokes he can speak two-and-a-half languages but as he does he concentrates to find the right words to deliver the important message about a time in his life that was clearly a real challenge.

He continues: "For me, it was a tough, tough time, I was very sad in England. My agent talked to me and the deal came together quickly for me to sign with them. I have some friends that live in Toronto and they told me it's a good city to live and I know MLS is growing, so I accept quickly. I am really happy - I am so thankful to MLS for this good opportunity to play games before the World Cup and arrive at the World Cup fit."

Cesar's night ends as it began, as a substitute, but as he leaves the field he is joined by Michael Bradley and Dwayne De Rosario.

Cesar to Bradley to De Rosario is a combination coach Ryan Nelsen will lean on a lot this season. They are also big parts of arguably the biggest offseason transformation in MLS history.

It could be a Disney fairytale, but this is a box office reality show and with two designated players added to score goals as well, the Reds are the talk of MLS here in Disney.

The return of the local star De Rosario? Romantic. The signing of Gilberto, an exciting unknown talent from Brazil? Adventurous. The capture of Jermain Defoe? A blockbuster. Bradley? A real hardcore thriller. Now Cesar as well? Are you following along, Disney?

Forget Kevin Spacey and his pals, these five are 'the Unusual Suspects' that no one saw coming, tasked with bringing success to Toronto FC and changing perceptions of a club that has only known failure. Time to make a movie poster, Toronto FC fans.

On it, Cesar would want to be next to Bradley. He spends a lot of time with teammate Jackson, a fellow Brazilian, who he can easily converse with in Portuguese but he admits the former Roma midfielder's knowledge of Italian is a big plus.

"Michael is great, I followed him in Italy, in Rome, a good midfielder, and day after day he is teaching me English through Italian."

Cesar and Bradley started their TFC journey against Columbus here in Disney last Wednesday. It is not a game he will remember much about, although he is a player who remembers many matches. Interestingly, however, when pressed to name the one he will think about more than most, he chooses a game he lost.

"Its Barcelona-Inter Camp Nou semifinal of the Champions League in 2010," Cesar tells me with a smile.

"Barcelona were amazing at that moment so to put them out at the semifinal was so gratifying and to play in a Champions League final, for me, is one of the best moments in my career."

That 1-0 loss gave 10-man Inter (Thiago Motta was sent off) a 3-2 win on aggregate and was one of the greatest defensive performances in recent history.

Not surprisingly, Cesar's eyes widen when he thinks back to the dressing room after the match, as he celebrated with so many great professionals like Lucio, Javier Zanetti, Maicon, Samuel Eto'o and Wesley Sneijder.

"We all started jumping inside the dressing room - led by Materazzi. You know, you can't believe it at the moment if its true or not but the dream came true - it is one of the best memories I have in my mind."

The goalkeeper knows many of his best memories are behind him but hopes the best moment of all is still to come.

"I'm really excited for the World Cup, you know, not just for me but my colleagues on the national team, the supporters as well, it is a big moment for our country. We have the opportunity to make history. I played in 2006, 2010 and this is my last World Cup and it's in my country, which is amazing!"

Spend a few minutes with Cesar and you begin to realize he is one of those rare footballers who think of himself more as an international than a club player. It is not difficult to understand why, having been left out by QPR all season, yet through that heartache his love affair with his national team grew stronger through a remarkable act of loyalty. An act that is ultimately the reason for him now being with Toronto FC.

Back in September, Brazilian manager Luiz Felipe Scolari stated Cesar would definitely be going to the World Cup, regardless of what happened with QPR.

"This season when I went to the national team I was smiling again because I had an opportunity to play and that's really important, I owe a lot to Scolari but also (assistant coach and former World Cup winner) Carlos Alberto Parreira as well - they are doing good things for me. When you don't play, the press talk a lot with them because we have good goalkeepers in Brazil but when you don't play and the coach of the national team still wants you it is very special, so I am so thankful to them because they trust me a lot in my job, so I came to Toronto because I need to pay them back."

And that is why the goalkeeper, who in fifteen weeks will be on the pitch for Brazil against Croatia in the World Cup opener, is here in Disney.

The only thing missing is a film maker.




Golfer Taylor Pendrith is the highest ranked player on Canada's men's national team. The recent graduate of Kent State University is 18th on the world amateur rankings. More...

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