TORONTO - Toronto FC's stars came out for the first time Wednesday.
Newly appointed captain Michael Bradley and Italian playmaker Sebastian Giovinco took part in practice while striker Jozy Altidore went through baseline physical testing.
A smiling head coach Greg Vanney looked like a kid whose toy box was full to the brim.
And with reason. Under the bubble at the team's well-appointed practice facility, a lively Giovinco darted through traffic. Veteran French midfielder Benoit Cheyrou looked silky smooth. Edwin Rivas, a rookie forward from Cal State-Northridge, turned heads. Homegrown midfielder Jay Chapman also looked sharp.
A routine pre-season scrimmage was buzzing.
"The intensity and the focus and the quality is better today than it has ever been," Vanney said.
Bradley and Altidore missed the first two weeks of camp while on duty with the U.S. national team. Giovinco arrived in Toronto from Italy last week.
The only note of discontent Wednesday was sounded — diplomatically — by former skipper Steven Caldwell. The 34-year-old Scottish centre back was formally removed as captain Tuesday as the MLS club installed Bradley as the face of the franchise.
"It's disappointing and I'm a little bit upset about how it's been handled," said Caldwell, who has captained almost every club he has played for.
Caldwell, who voiced his support for Bradley, felt he deserved "a little bit more respect" in the way it was done.
"We all knew that it was coming and it should have been dealt with quicker and in a more precise manner," he said. "It dragged on in part of a season where I feel we should be fully concentrating on gelling a team and being prepared for (the season opener) March 7."
It's hard not to agree with Caldwell's assessment. Always ebullient Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment boss Tim Leiweke raved in the off-season about the role Bradley played in helping bring Altidore and Giovinco to the franchise. The 27-year-old Bradley had been consulted at every step, Leiweke said.
On Day 1 of camp, Caldwell was asked whether his input was sought. The answer was no.
The club's sixth career captain was dispensed with like a billionaire installing a new trophy wife, albeit one as tough as nails.
The writing had been on the wall months before. With millions invested in Bradley, the club spotlight shone brightly on the intense American last season, especially with Caldwell missing two games through suspension and 11 by injury.
A September video call to arms to TFC fans was delivered by Bradley, not Caldwell.
Official word eventually came Tuesday via a story on Toronto FC's website and a tweet: "ICYMI - NEWS: Toronto FC names Michael Bradley captain."
While Bradley was gracious in his assessment of Caldwell's term as captain, the whole process seemed shoddy.
Caldwell, the oldest player on Toronto's roster, said he considers the matter closed. But it is clear that there are likely other disagreements.
Bradley called the 2014 squad too young and too naive. The TFC braintrust says it lacked character.
The problem was somewhat simpler in the former skipper's view.
"We lost our captain for a number of weeks and we lost our top striker, our DP (Jermain Defoe)," said Caldwell.
Caldwell said all he wants to do now is win. But in closing the matter, he offered some veteran perspective.
"At the end of the day people don't follow armbands," he said. "They follow leaders. And there's many different ways to lead."
NOTES: Brazilian winger Jackson remains in Brazil with his wife and newborn baby. He is due to join the team next week in Florida ... Polish defender Damien Perquis took a knock on his arm but kept playing.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter