TORONTO - Danny Dichio was far from a global soccer hero when he first came to Toronto FC in the spring of 2007.
He was an effective blue-collar pro who had logged time at some of England's less glamorous clubs. But the big striker quickly became part of Toronto FC folklore when he crossed the Atlantic to play in the MLS, scoring the expansion team's first ever goal.
"It wasn't a great goal, by any means," Dichio recalled Wednesday. "But it meant a lot to the future of this club, and I'll take that memory with me wherever I go."
Dichio, who turns 35 next month, announced his retirement Wednesday and plans to enter the coaching ranks with Toronto FC. Dichio will serve as an ambassador for the soccer team and help with coaching, starting initially with the academy players before moving to the first team next year.
"It's a big step for me. It's going to be a hard transition but it's one I'm looking forward to," Dichio said.
Dichio entered the record book on May 12, 2007, when he scored 23 minutes 13 seconds into a game against the visiting Chicago Fire. Toronto fans had been waiting for weeks for something to celebrate. The fledgling franchise had been outscored 10-0 in losing three straight on the road and one at home.
Dichio, playing just his second game for his new team, slid to knock home a half-speed cross from then-teammate Edson Buddle, ending a 384-minute dry spell. Thousands of giveaway seat cushions were hurled onto the field like Frisbees and a legend was born. Dichio made some more history later in the game when he became the first TFC player to be red-carded but Toronto hung on to win 3-1.
To this day, Toronto fans celebrate the goal with a song about Dichio in the 24th minute of every game.
Dichio went on to score just 13 more goals for Toronto. But fans still celebrate him for that first one - and for the grit and drive he used to try to pry open opposing defences.
At six foot three, the shaven-headed Dichio was a physical presence on the field. Good in the air and able to hold up the ball to bring other teammates into play, he was a handful when healthy.
"He is legendary in the hearts of TFC fans," said Rudi Schuller, a prominent member of the U-Sector supporters' group. "I think it's best to be happy for what he brought to Toronto. He put a face to the club when it really didn't have one.
"I prefer to remember him as that bulldog that scored the first goal, and pushed people around, and really had that Toronto attitude that we seem to love and cling on to here."
Dichio also earned respect for his love and loyalty for his new home. Right from the beginning, he said he and his family were determined to remain in Toronto.
"We knew as soon as we arrived it was the right place for us," said Dichio, who recently became technical director of the Thornhill Soccer Club.
Prior to coming to the MLS, the big man had stints with Preston North End, Millwall, Derby County, West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland, Queen's Park Rangers and Barnet. He also spent time in Italy at Sampdoria and Lecce.
Dichio's retirement may pave the way for the arrival of Canadian international midfielder Julian de Guzman.
"This is about Danny, it's not about Julian de Guzman today," said Toronto director of soccer Mo Johnston, who coaches Dichio in the inaugural season.