ORLANDO - Julio Cesar would have preferred a different start to his Toronto FC career. The Brazilian international goalkeeper was beaten twice in the first 12 minutes of his Reds' debut in a 3-1 preseason loss to Columbus Crew in Florida earlier this week. There wasn't much Cesar could do about Federico Higuain's excellent free-kick, or the thunderbolt from Josh Williams that followed shortly after.
Despite conceding the goals, it was a relatively quiet afternoon for the World Cup winner. Cesar was rarely called into action, but that didn't mean he wasn't involved.
When Toronto FC announced Cesar's signing on loan from Queens Park Rangers last week, Reds head coach Ryan Nelsen talked about the leadership and organizational skills the veteran will bring. That was clearly evident in Orlando against Columbus as Cesar talked his way through the game, managing his teammates in front of him.
"It is part of the job of the goalkeeper because he can watch all of the games," Cesar told me following the game at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney. "Many times I like to talk with my defenders and the midfield. We need to work hard tactically especially. The most important thing is to understand the coach and what he wants.
"I am a little sad because it was my first game and we lost, but I am happy because I am back to playing after eight months and that was tough for me. I am really happy because the coach gave me the opportunity to start with the team."
A key figure amongst the defenders in front of Cesar will be club captain Steven Caldwell, and the former Scottish international is well aware of what the Brazilian can bring to the team.
"It's fantastic to have him behind us with his experience," said Caldwell. "He's very comfortable on the ball and strong playing out of the back. It's going to be a great experience for everybody who has the privilege to play with Julio and so far he just seems like a fantastic guy. We're all going to learn off him and it is an honour for this football club to have him play for us."
One of the things that has been lacking in past seasons at Toronto FC has been leadership on the pitch, but that certainly can't be said about this squad of players. With Cesar in goal and Caldwell in the centre of defence they have two excellent communicators. When you add in US international Michael Bradley as the general in the centre of midfield, TFC has a very strong leadership core.
"You want every guy taking a big role in the team with personality and leadership and commitment," said Bradley. "When you walk in that locker room there is a team full of guys who are ready to do that, so that's nothing but positive."
Toronto FC's next test in preseason is on Saturday when they will return to action in Florida in their second match of the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic against hometown team Orlando City. Management and players alike will be hoping to see further improvement and progression as the team builds towards its March 15 season opener in Seattle.
"For us it's about building the understanding and working on the things we have been working on in training," said Dwayne De Rosario. "We will continue to build and there is still a long way to go. The game (against Columbus) brought us back to reality and showed us things that we need to work on. Now we need to improve on those things that they exposed us on. We're where we want to be but there is still a lot to do."
"Against Columbus we had a few guys that were having their first minutes of preseason," said head coach Ryan Nelsen. "We needed to see a few of the weaknesses that we have so that we can work on it. They've just got to play together. They have to get used to each other and get minutes under their belt. We will progress on from here."