In football as with life we so often speculate on what might have been. Despite being named MLS MVP for 2011 and recording a successful season with D.C. United, Dwayne De Rosario still holds a contemplation of his own - what if I’d stayed in Milan?
"I don’t call it a regret, I don’t like to use that word." He says as he begins to explain the circumstances that surrounded his decision. Aged 14 Canadian De Rosario was offered a five year contract with Milan (a club of which he still considers himself a supporter) but decided against it after spending time in the red half of the Italian city.
"I guess you could say I was a street kid." He said, laughing as he reminisces about his younger self. "I was 14 and a five year contract seemed like my whole life. It wasn’t until I flew back and I realised what happens when you waste it, because hanging out in the streets and getting into trouble is not the solution."
Instead of venturing to Europe De Rosario began his career with local side Malvern Majors, a time of which he is clearly fond: “We had a very young and talented team. The majority of players in that team could of gone pro but circumstances unfortunately meant they didn’t and everybody parted their ways.” Not wanting to forget his roots he cites his celebration the ‘shake an bake’, as a tribute to those who were unable to play the sport professionally, “It’s one we’ve been doing since we were kids.”
A young De Rosario may have lacked the professional hunger, but now 33 his desire is stronger than ever after an interesting 2011. When asked to describe his season his response is simple: “Ups and downs definitely.” An apt evaluation considering De Rosario is the first MVP to play for three teams in a season and still win the award. A testament to his resilience.
Few could have predicted such a drastic upturn in form when he departed New York Red Bulls after only thirteen games (Having briefly started the season at Toronto FC). Far from happy with the way things transpired, De Rosario recalls the moment he was told his time with the New Jersey-based club would be coming to an end. “On the Monday afternoon after training they called me,” he said. “I was going to my daughter’s graduation in Toronto the day after and they called me in and basically said, “We just did a trade.” And I was like, “I was in the office, you could of simply just pulled me in then.”
De Rosario had only recently completed a down payment on a house. Did he feel disrespected? “Yeah 100%. Like I said it’s not the fact I’d just came there. I don’t think anyone should be treated this way, but especially a guy having been in the league for this long and having accomplished what I’ve accomplished. Sometimes when you treat a player like that it doesn’t go well.”
Departing for the nation’s capital, De Rosario would return to New York only days later - this time as a D.C. United player. With a point to prove the script was written, and De Rosario performed. A clever dummy that saw him lose Dax McCarty (ironically the player New York acquired in the trade) was followed by a pin point shot in off the post. A rendition of the ‘shake an bake’ was now met with an intensity in his eyes. Ben Olsen had not acquired an aging veteran looking to bow out, but a player with a point to prove and four months to do it.
New York would not be the only former team De Rosario would haunt this season. A hat-trick against Toronto FC at RFK stadium, left him with a somewhat bittersweet taste. “There was a lot of emotions there. Obviously Toronto is my hometown and it’s a city I’m very very passionate about. To experience what I experienced there was difficult. I still gave 100% every training session and on the field, despite what was going on off the field. To have to play them, it was a weird feeling.”
As you might expect De Rosario speaks highly of his current manager Ben Olsen. There’s a level of respect between player and manager, that was forged during years spent playing on opposing sides, both in MLS and at youth international level. “I’ve always had a great respect for Ben’s game in terms of his tenacity, he doesn’t give up and he always works hard.” He said, “That attitude can take you a lot of places. I’m even more impressed at the way he’s made the transition from being a player last year to now being a coach.”
When asked if it’s a transition he can envisage himself making, De Rosario’s response is non committal: for now his focus is on his playing career. Much like D.C. United, De Rosario values youth and the potential to develop the next generation. But he also speaks of his enjoyment at devising tactical strategies. As he continues to talk ‘maybe’ begins to sound more like ‘yes’.
The off season has seen much discussion on whether De Rosario can maintain such form. Unwilling to set himself specific targets for the season, he takes lessons from D.C. legend Jaime Moreno and a certain Manchester United midfielder. “After every season you should look at yourself and really evaluate the things that you’ve done well and the things they need to improve on,” he said. “You look at a guy like [Ryan] Giggs he thinks a lot quicker than his opponent and he frees up his own space. I admire players like that they really play with their brian.”
Now in his fourteenth season as a professional, what role does De Rosario believe his vegan diet has played in his longevity? “I think it helps me a lot in terms of staying on top of my personal growth as a player and an individual to see what I eat and what I put into my body. I think it really helps me stay on top of my game for the full 90 minutes.”
De Rosario sounds comfortable and accepts that, while it may have taken time, he has eventually found the right team for him. As for next season his goals are simple as he explains; “The main thing for me is collectively as a team being successful, so whatever we have to do to make that happen I’m willing to do, and right now it’s putting the ball in the net. I’m going to try my best to continue to do that.”