The Golden Boot winner in Major League Soccer for 2011 is Dwayne De Rosario, a feat he accomplished while playing for three different clubs this year. A member of Toronto FC, Red Bull New York and most recently and importantly, DC United, DeRo scored sixteen goals. Though this figure was equalled by 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski, the San Jose Earthquakes forward, De Rosario claimed the award thanks to his twelve assists, good for fourth in the league. Indeed, of the fourteen other players to score at least ten goals this season in MLS, none also recorded double digits in assists.
Despite his statistical dominance, the three clubs where he featured this season finished sixteenth, thirteenth and tenth out of eighteen. Was De Rosario simply a good player on bad teams, gathering statistics due to a lack of competent teammates? Or were the individual circumstances (and in some cases, disasters) of his clubs larger than even him? The answer, of course, seems to lie somewhere in between.
Early in the season, with his hometown Toronto FC, De Rosario was certainly the best player on a poor team. After winning just nine games in 2010 and missing the playoffs by fifteen points, the Reds hired Dutch manager Aron Winter to change the system and eventually the roster. That Winter turned over his team is by now well documented, but early in the season the explosion of trades and signings was just whispers and hunches. De Rosario started well with a goal against Canadian rivals Vancouver Whitecaps in the season opener, though his Reds lost 4-2 to the expansion side at Empire Field. He then assisted on a goal in a 2-0 win over Portland Timbers at BMO Field in the freezing cold. It was only then, on April 1, that Winter altered the face of the club and shipped De Rosario out of his hometown. Plenty of dressing room problems were widely reported throughout the two seasons the Canadian international spent at Toronto, but his removal after just two matches was a surprise.
So off to New York City DeRo moved, joining Thierry Henry, Rafael Márquez and supposedly high powered Red Bull. He debuted at Red Bull Arena in a 1-1 draw with Houston Dynamo on April 2 and added a level of sophistication and skill in the no. 10 role for undefeated New York. After a loss to Philadelphia Union, Red Bull ticked off three wins to finish April, winning 4-0, 3-0 and 1-0, climbing to second place on the MLS table. With Henry and Luke Rodgers shouldering the scoring, De Rosario was used much more as a facilitator than scorer. It wasn’t until a May 15 loss to Chivas USA that DeRo scored for New York, though he did provide four assists during his short stay with Red Bull. The reason for brevity came from the desire of New York to be a top club in 2011. The goal was to compete for the Supporters Shield and make a run at the MLS Cup before their star players were too old. With De Rosario in the fold, and particularly in light of the trade to acquire him (trading 22-year old Tony Tchani and their first round pick for 2012), it was obvious that Red Bull were going for it this year. Yet New York won just once in their next ten games, drawing seven times. By week 17 Red Bull had slipped to sixth place and rather than continue on the course established when DeRo arrived, New York opted for another trade.
With De Rosario already 33 years old and the club unable to win games, Red Bull gave up on the Supporters Shield and traded the four-time MLS Cup champion to DC United for Dax McCarty, a young central midfielder who has been a US international. McCarty was a key part of the FC Dallas side that reached the 2010 MLS Cup final but was left unprotected in the expansion draft. Portland Timbers selected McCarty and immediately traded him to DC for Rodney Wallace and allocation money. McCarty was much less effective at DC than he had been at Dallas yet New York pushed through the blockbuster trade on June 27.
Upon his arrival with DC, a team that finished last in the sixteen-team 2010 MLS season, De Rosario’s role shifted for the second time during the season. After being the most important offensive player in Toronto, edging the left touchline and providing both scoring and service, to playing a more measured, controlling role in New York, creating chances for others while allowing Henry and Rodgers to dominate the touches in the box, DeRo became the focus of the DC United attack. Despite garnering the attention of every defense, De Rosario collected an assist and three goals in his first four games at United. As August and September came, DeRo cemented his status as one of the league’s best ever players, netting hat-tricks against Toronto and Real Salt Lake, the latter of which took him just 31 minutes to complete, an MLS record. Despite De Rosario’s brilliance, this team simply was not good enough to compete through the latter part of the season. This was particularly evident when, after playing two World Cup qualifiers for Canada, DeRo was rested against Vancouver, the league’s worst team. United lost 2-1 away, making the playoffs nearly impossible. Though he did score a wonderful equalizer against Portland for his last goal of the season, the 1-1 draw at RFK Stadium eliminated United from playoff contention.
16 goals is a career high for De Rosario and certainly twelve goals in sixteen games to close the season in DC is a remarkable run. Yet only New York ultimately qualified for the playoffs in 2011. The DeRo trade was the first of many in Toronto as Winter completely overhauled the roster, which should be beneficial in the long-term but was detrimental to the team’s success this season. New York only managed to qualify for the post-season after late season wins against Portland and Philadelphia. Strangely, their season seems to have gone on as though De Rosario was never in the team. The struggles to win continued long after his departure and the inclusion of McCarty did little to revitalize the team. It is certainly possible that McCarty could have a more lasting impact than DeRo would have had in New York, given his significantly younger age, but neither had the impact the club were hoping. In DC, De Rosario was often the best player on the field, though Charlie Davies did record a hat-trick while DeRo was in town. But adding such quality to a side with so many questions and such little experience, not to mention their 34-year old manager, Ben Olsen, did not translate into success. Indeed, DC dropped from ninth place to thirteenth over the four months De Rosario spent in the capital.
So what can be expected of a 34-year old Dwayne De Rosario in 2012? Will he remain with DC United or will another club try to use him to push them to whatever their selected goal will be next year? It’s hard to say, particularly given his usual request for an exceptionally high contract. Not that it would be undeserved, but not every club will be willing to pay a player in his mid-30s, regardless of what he can do on the pitch. It does seem like DeRo might be done as an effective player for a good team, that contenders are neither willing to pay another player a high salary nor cede control within a game from their existing top players. Though he will not win the league MVP this year, De Rosario is clearly still a great player capable of quite an impact on whichever team employs him. He might just be forced to play out his final years in MLS with subpar teams.