It's no April Fool's joke — Toronto FC captain Dwayne de Rosario has been traded.
The long and drawn-out De Rosario-TFC saga officially came to an end on Friday when the Major League Soccer club dealt its all-time leading scorer to the New York Red Bulls.
In return for De Rosario, Toronto received midfielder Tony Tchani, defender Danleigh Borman and a first-round draft pick in 2012.
"We have acquired two very strong players that I believe will have an immediate and long-term impact at our club. I'd like to thank Dwayne for all his contributions to Toronto FC and wish him well with his new club in New York," Toronto coach and Technical Director Aron Winter said in a statement.
"It is unfortunate to have to trade our captain, but this deal is part of our rebuild process and helps to open cap room for our club."
De Rosario did not attend Friday's training session in Oakville, Ont., ahead of the team's Saturday home game against Toronto FC.
Nobody should be surprised that De Rosario, a 32-year-old native of the Scarborough area of Toronto, was dealt away by TFC, especially considering how the star player had been embroiled in a public spat with team management over his salary.
De Rosario was in the second half of a four-year deal with the Reds. He earned $443,750 US during the 2010 Major League Soccer season — well behind the club's top earner, fellow Canadian Julian de Guzman ($1,717,546).
De Guzman is the team's only existing designated player, after Spanish star Mista was let go in the off-season. But De Rosario felt he should also be given a DP contract and the pay increase that comes with it.
Last September, De Rosario publicly stated he wasn't happy with his salary and went so far as to celebrate a goal he scored in a game against San Jose by mockingly signing an imaginary cheque. The gesture was a clear message to team management that he wanted to renegotiate his contract.
De Rosario caused further uproar when he trained with Scottish club Celtic in Glasgow during the MLS off-season over the Christmas holidays. His Celtic stint became a controversial topic after TFC issued a news release stating their captain did not go through proper channels before heading over to Scotland.
Upon returning to Toronto, De Rosario didn't soften his salary stance, hinting that he would not play this year without a new contract.
De Rosario didn't follow through with the threat, as he started the first two games of the 2011 MLS campaign, scoring in the team's opening match of the season, a 4-2 road loss to Vancouver on March 19.
Since joining the club via a trade with Houston in 2009, De Rosario has firmly established himself as Toronto FC's franchise player. His 32 goals rank him as the team's all-time leading scorer and he helped Toronto win back-to-back Canadian club championships in 2009 and 2010.
He further underlined his worth in 2010 when he scored 15 of his team's 33 goals and was one of the few bright spots on a team that failed to make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
Friday's trade leaves the club without a proven scorer who can bag 12-15 goals per season. His departure, though, clears up a considerable amount of salary cap space, putting Toronto in a better position to sign another player to replace their former captain.
Now that he's gone, finding another player who can score with regularity has to be the club's first priority.
"We're sad to see him go in [that] we're going to miss his goal production," opined Phil Tobin, vice president of the Red Patch Boys, a TFC supporter club. "It's going to be tough to replace [his] goals, it's going to be a challenge, but I guess it's [a trade move] that has to be done."
The addition of Tchani and Borman gives Toronto some more youth and depth.
Tchani, 21, is currently in his second season with the Red Bulls after being selected second overall in last year's draft. The Cameroonian is an athletic, box-to-box player who will likely partner with Julian de Guzman in the centre of Toronto's midfield.
Borman, 26, is in his fourth season with the Red Bull and is known for his versatility — the South Africa native can play either in midfield or defence.
De Rosario's move to New York will see him play on a star-studded team that includes former FC Barcelona standouts Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez.
As the TFC's best player and public face of the club, to say nothing of the fact he's a hometown boy, De Rosario's departure will leave a lot of loyal fans angry over management's decision to trade him.
Other fans will no doubt welcome the move, feeling De Rosario caused too much of a distraction with his public complaining and outbursts.
But in the end, there was a sense of inevitability to it — that it was only a matter of when, and not if, he would be traded.
"We could all see it happening. It's not shocking, but it's just too bad that things couldn't be worked out," said Tobin.
De Rosario said he was "sorry" to TFC fans in a message posted on his Facebook page.
"Just wanted to say it has truly been an honor coming back home & playing for my home crowd. Unfortunately things didn't work out as it was my goal to help TFC succeed in winning a "MLS Championship". You the fans will always hold a special place in my heart at TFC. Best Wishes....," wrote De Rosario.