As the Best of 2011 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 11 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 21 until Dec. 31, when we unveil what our editors voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2011.
The countdown continues with No. 4, as contributor Charles Boehm looks back at Dwayne De Rosario's long journey to find a new home in D.C.
Toronto and Dwayne De Rosario were supposed to be a match made in heaven.
“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. 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.”
-D.C. United president and CEO Kevin Payne on DeRo's impact
A soccer-crazed city had waited and wondered while their native son climbed the heights, first in San Jose, then Houston. Fifty-one goals. Forty-two assists. Four MLS Cup championships. Three All-Star and Best XI nods. Two MLS Goals of the Year.
When he finally returned in 2008, delirium ensued among TFC supporters. He delivered the goods, too, creating, finishing and performing in the clutch. But victories remained too elusive, a trial at Scottish giants Celtic fizzled and the pay raise he felt had been promised never materialized, prompting a very public riposte after another typically audacious goal – the infamous check-signing celebration. It polarized the fan base and coined a stinging moniker: “MeRo.”
Barely two years after he arrived, he was shipped to New York as the final superstar ingredient for a team already full of them. As if that wasn’t enough tumult for a 30-something man with a family of five, the Red Bulls quickly abandoned that experiment and, shockingly, passed him to their deepest rivals, D.C. United, after just 13 games.
“I pretty much said, ‘This is a joke,’” De Rosario recalled to ESPN at season’s end. "I've never seen this before in my life. It's the end of my career and I'm being thrown all over the place and I'm trying to look after my family."
Perhaps it was wounded pride, or fear for his future, or just arriving at a club where his role and importance was clear, but the Canadian international responded like a man possessed. He scored or set up 10 of United’s next 12 goals, then produced arguably the greatest solo performance in league history on Sept. 24, dishing a visionary through ball to set up Andy Najar’s opener before reeling off three highlight-reel strikes in nine minutes to key a 4-1 victory over Real Salt Lake.
"D.C. United's Andy Najar: Where did this guy come from?"
“He was brilliant,” said RSL coach and former MLS goal king Jason Kreis. “He was brilliant.”
Despite DeRo’s herculean efforts, an October winless swoon scotched United’s playoff hopes. Yet with 13 goals and seven assists in a mere 17 starts, the impact of D.C.’s glittering new weapon was undeniable, a fact MLS awards voters recognized by selecting De Rosario as the league’s Most Valuable Player – the first player to win after being traded in midseason, and also the first to do so while missing out on the postseason.
Reveling in the footloose attacking role given to him by coach Ben Olsen, De Rosario seems liberated by his new locale and both parties are ready to sign a contract extension.
It might not be quite how the man from Malvern planned it, but he's found his match.
“I'm happy with where I am right now,” he told ESPN. “Me and the coaching staff have a real good understanding."
WATCH: MLS Cup Week All-Access: Dwayne De Rosario