CARSON, Calif. – Dwayne De Rosario might have been a disgruntled superstar in Toronto and the missing piece that never quite found a home in New York. But even in the toughest season of his career, the support from fellow MLS players who know him best never waned.
That was evident in the final tally of the 2011 Volkswagen MVP voting released on Friday, which showed that MLS players overwhelmingly favored De Rosario as the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Roughly 26 percent of the players voted for De Rosario, more than three times the amount for FC Dallas playmaker Brek Shea or Houston winger Brad Davis. And more than the media vote or the coaches' vote, the players' numbers meant the most to DeRo, who was presented with his first league MVP trophy on Friday at The Home Depot Center.
“It’s a mutual respect,” De Rosario said. “I’m a fan of and admire a lot of players in this league. To get that kind of respect from the players is a great feeling. That’s the greatest feeling one could ever receive, when fellow players identify your hard work, dedication and commitment.”
De Rosario also handily won the votes of the media, coaches and front offices en route to a runaway finish for the award. His 16 goals and 12 assists spread out over time spent with Toronto, New York and finally D.C. United marked the best statistical season of his career, and gave him the Golden Boot award to go with a league-record sixth selection to the MLS Best XI.
But even while De Rosario was steadily grinding out the best season of his career, he was also dealing with a year that proved to be his most personally difficult yet.
It seems like a lifetime ago that the Canadian international was the dour face of Toronto FC, a situation that he said “took a lot out of me to go out there and perform to 100 percent.” He played just two games this season with Toronto after he aired his discontent with the club last year and during the offseason, and a trade in April to the New York Red Bulls seemingly set him up for an ideal place to find happiness and a return to the postseason.
But that situation – where De Rosario effectively played second fiddle to Thierry Henry and was never asked to be the offensive sparkplug he’d been for years in Houston and Toronto – didn’t pan out either. He scored two goals and dished out four assists in 13 games before he was shipped out again, this time to D.C. United in favor of a more box-to-box, blue-collar midfielder in Dax McCarty.
“Different systems, different coaching philosophies, different players, different styles, different roles,” De Rosario said, listing the obstacles he faced in 2011. “Your family’s relocating, schools, doctors … all that you gotta bear in mind. And you gotta do it overnight. And that’s not easy.”
He ultimately found a home in late June with D.C. United, the club that had quietly tried to make a swap for him for years. When the deal finally went through De Rosario effectively took charge of the club and found the touch that made him one of the league’s most ruthless offensive threats, scoring 13 goals and adding seven assists in just 18 games.
D.C. went from a harmless and fledgling group of mostly league newcomers to a team dangerous on any given night, thanks to De Rosario’s ability to become a one-man wrecking crew in an instant.
His best night came on Sept. 24, when he scored three goals and added an assist in the first half of D.C.’s 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake. That game thrust him directly into the MVP race, and suddenly he was among royalty for the league’s most storied franchise.
“In all of our years, and we’ve had some great players at D.C. United, I’ve never seen a better performance than what we got from Dwayne,” D.C. United president Kevin Payne said. “The fact that he got three times as many votes from the players as the next-highest vote getter shows what his peers think of him.”
Still, there was some criticism before the final votes were tallied about whether De Rosario should win the award after two teams had put him on the trading block in the same season. And what about Shea and Davis, who led their teams to the postseason while D.C. missed the cut?
De Rosario, for his part, let his play do the talking.
“Everyone has their opinion, and if that’s someone’s opinion, that’s fair enough,” he said. “MVP is the Most Valuable Player, and it’s really about one individual and how he overcame obstacles and how he helped his team out.
“And hats off to Brek Shea and Brad Davis,” he added, “they helped their teams out tremendously.”
And that’s the one sour note of De Rosario’s otherwise banner year: he’s accepting an individual award instead of playing for a team trophy. He missed the postseason for the third straight year in 2011, a fact not lost on him as he looked out over the Home Depot Center, site of the MLS Cup on Sunday between the Houston Dynamo and LA Galaxy.
“If I could exchange this to play on Sunday I would, in a heartbeat,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be in the grand finale: the media, the hype, the importance of the game, the joy that comes with that. It’s a personal feeling, but it’s one the team feels, the community feels and the fans feel. I would love to be there on Sunday.”
After such a tumultuous year — which included, some forget, a brief spell last December with famed Scottish side Celtic FC that earned him scorn from some Toronto fans — some stability would be welcome in De Rosario’s world. D.C. United are eager to keep him and he seems just as keen to stay in the nation’s capital, as D.C. hold the option on his contract for 2012 and seem willing to lock him down for a long-term deal.
“We do think Dwayne has more than one left in the tank at a very high level,” Payne said. “We’ll be sitting down with his representatives soon to discuss his future with D.C. United.”
And that’s welcome news for De Rosario, who’s looking for much firmer ground in 2012 after a wayward season ended with a hard-earned smile and an eye towards the future.
“I’m not putting an expiration date on anything,” he said. “I’m going to play as long as I can give 100 percent.”