In the opening pages of “DeRo: My Life,” his head-turning new autobiography, Dwayne De Rosario and his co-author Brendan Dunlop transport readers back in time to a teenage friend’s basement in the Scarborough district of Toronto, where the adolescent Dwayne finds himself quite literally staring down the barrel of a gun as the trigger is pulled.
It’s a hell of a way to start the story, and like so many of the matches he would go on to star in as an adult, the tempo doesn’t slack off much over the ensuing 192 pages.
From his hard-knock upbringing as a child of working-class Guyanese immigrants to his triumphs — and conflicts — with the Canadian national team, Toronto FC and four other MLS clubs, De Rosario’s story is packed with danger, drama and deliverance. That makes “DeRo: My Life,” which hits shelves across Canada and the United States on Tuesday, an absorbing read.
It was also an intense, yet ultimately “therapeutic” journey for its subject that dates back to 2016.
“I was always a private person, I always kept my personal life to myself and to my family. So having to sit down and open up and tell my life story was a real experience,” De Rosario told MLSsoccer.com in a recent video chat. “I had to really dig down deep to express myself. It meant sometimes cutting a conversation and then kind of [saying] ‘we have to pick this up another day, I just can't tell the rest of the story right now.’
“There were times, Brendan could tell you, that when he was capturing a story, I would start crying,” he added. “I would start bawling because that's how much certain experiences meant to me. And then I realized, as I'm saying it, I'm realizing wow, how much effect it really had on me, and how I really used sport and leveraged sport as a real outlet for a lot of these emotions, a lot of these feelings I was going through.”
US readers may see shades of Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson in DeRo’s rise from the rough streets and sweaty dancehalls of Scarborough to soccer stardom, racing against time to reach the biggest stages and prove the doubters wrong.
The future seven-time MLS All-Star flirted with a drug-dealing career before the aforementioned shooting incident provided a watershed moment to turn his life in a positive direction — although the physical damage it inflicted still hampers him to this day — and traversed the world as a teenager for a litany of tournaments and tryouts from AC Milan to FC Barcelona and points further afield.
He experienced racial abuse in a nightmare stint in Germany’s lower divisions, then found his feet with the USL’s Richmond Kickers, a launching pad for an underdog’s rise from unknown reserve to 2001 MLS Cup MVP with the San Jose Earthquakes, the first of four league titles with the Quakes and their relocated incarnation as the Houston Dynamo.
Later he gained a dream homecoming as a showcase acquisition for TFC, only to fall out with the club’s leadership and be shipped off to the New York Red Bulls amid the upheaval and dysfunction of the Reds’ early years. Meanwhile he suffers through one excruciating World Cup qualifying failure after another with the CanMNT, and seethes with frustration as multiple attempts to clinch transfers to Celtic, Blackburn Rovers and other European clubs are stymied.
His book pulls few punches when it comes to the people and organizations who let him or his teams down over the years, including Preki, Hans Backe, Canada Soccer, TFC's executives during his time there and even Jurgen Klinsmann.
“I'm not doing it to ruffle feathers, I just did it to authentically tell my story,” said De Rosario, who today runs his own foundation and soccer academy in addition to serving as a Toronto FC ambassador. “And there are some moments that I think, for some people, might be difficult to read.”
That gave Dunlop, a veteran sports television personality who has worked for The Score, Sportsnet, OneSoccer and other outlets, plenty of strong material for his first-ever book project.
“Dwayne was really great about just being so candid,” he said. “On the media side of things, it was very clear that he spoke more openly and was considerably more candid than a lot of athletes – especially a lot of Canadian athletes. Hockey players definitely get stereotyped for just saying the cliches and saying the easy things and as a player, Dwayne was never that. So to get into these things in a personal setting with the ultimate intention of putting into a book, it was amazing just how open he was and how it just flowed.”
DeRo’s career arc mirrors the growth and maturation of MLS, and his memoirs take us inside some key moments along the way.
In one chapter, we feel his fury as two unexpected trades in one season fueled his capture of the 2012 MLS MVP award with D.C. United, one of the great individual achievements in the league’s history. In another, Dwayne takes us inside a Toronto nightclub where he, David Beckham and their colleagues vibe to reggae and hip-hop at the legendary afterparty he hosted following the 2008 MLS All-Star Game.
We also glimpse the gutting emptiness that – as with so many other pros – set in after his retirement, as he weathered the breakup of his 20-year marriage to his wife Brandy, lost his father to prostate cancer and pondered his purpose in life.
“You see him grow from the one-bedroom apartment to being a pro athlete to being a champion to being a face of the league, and then in retirement, growing as a person, growing as a father and growing as a businessman, growing as an academy leader,” said Dunlop.
“It's no secret that a lot of athletes have some real struggles post-playing career, and Dwayne’s very open about some of the struggles that he had, and sharing his story to help other other guys just in sharing the story and seeing that they're not alone.”
Above all DeRo hopes readers, whether they’re aspiring Canadian soccer heroes or everyday people like the youth coaches and family members who nurtured him, can find inspiration in his saga.
“I just hope that the reader, when you read this, you are motivated and compelled to put ownership on yourself, to say, ‘why is my situation this way,’ and it's in you to better it," he said. "It's in you to overcome it and it's in you to become as great as you want to be."