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Eight by Eight’s Chase Woodruff caught up with MLS legend Dwayne De Rosario to reflect on his storied MLS career and discuss what’s next for the recently retired star

Dwayne De Rosario lifts MLS Cup MVP trophy in 2001. Photo: San Jose Earthquakes

Dwayne De Rosario lifts the 2001 MLS Cup MVP trophy. Photo: San Jose Earthquakes

Summer is finally here, and with it a new wave of international superstars is set to wash up on Major League Soccer’s shores. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard will join their new clubs in mid-July, while reports—credible or otherwise—continue to suggest that Didier Drogba and Andrea Pirlo may not be far behind them. With players like Kaká, David Villa, and Sebastian Giovinco already plying their trade stateside, and many of the USMNT’s elite now doing the same, the MLS of August and beyond will boast the highest concentration of star talent in league history.

Dwayne De Rosario won’t be among them, but that’s not because he isn’t a star. His 14-year MLS career, which officially came to an end with his retirement last month, is one of the most decorated in league history. A four-time MLS Cup Champion, seven-time All-Star, and winner of the 2011 Most Valuable Player Award, De Rosario ranks sixth on the league’s all-time goals list, and seventh in games played. He’s widely viewed as the greatest Canadian player ever. The Gerrards and Lampards of the world may boast greater name recognition, but when it comes to North American soccer, they’ll be standing on the shoulders of giants like DeRo.

“If it wasn’t for some of us,” he told Eight by Eight last week, “maybe this league wouldn’t be around right now. The Jaime Morenos, the [Marco] Etcheverrys, the [Carlos] Valderramas—they brought global appeal before Beckham came to this league.”

Though his playing days are over, De Rosario’s involvement in growing the game in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean may only be just beginning. In addition to continuing on as an ambassador for Toronto FC and this summer’s Pan-Am Games, he’ll be taking an active role in player development with the launch of the DeRo United Academy this fall, as well as his ongoing charitable work through the DeRo Foundation. He’s particularly focused on searching out talent in the kinds of low-income areas that often get overlooked, and addressing the challenges that young players in those communities face.

Those are challenges that De Rosario, born to Guyanese immigrants in Toronto’s troubled Scarborough district, knows from personal experience. “I was just very blessed and fortunate,” he says, “and I came up at a point in time where I kicked the street habits, and when I committed myself, my whole being, to my craft, those doors started to open up.”

After spells with Toronto Lynx, German side FSV Zwickau, and the Richmond Kickers, De Rosario made the leap to MLS just prior to the 2001 season, when San Jose Earthquakes manager and fellow Canadian Frank Yallop decided to bring him aboard. Receiving the news, he says, is perhaps the most memorable and cherished moment in a career full of them.

“I got that call from Frank to say, ‘I want to bring you to San Jose,’ and that was the moment where I was like, okay—time to unleash now. Mentally and physically, I’m taking this to the next level.”

It turned out to be a dream first season for De Rosario, as a Quakes side led by a young phenom named Landon Donovan stormed their way to the MLS Cup Final, where DeRo’s sensational extra-time golden goal sealed the club’s first championship.

He went on to win three more titles with the franchise, which moved and became the Houston Dynamo in 2006, before joining Toronto FC, his hometown club, in 2009. He remains TFC’s all-time leading goalscorer—though at the pace Giovinco’s knocking them in, maybe not for long. “The hunger, the way he plays, his vision on the field—he would’ve been a fun player to play with,” says De Rosario, a bit wistfully.

Ironically for a player who has been such an indispensable part of MLS over the years, De Rosario’s greatest season as a professional was one in which some of the league’s biggest shortcomings were laid bare. Unable to secure a better contract from Toronto after a stellar 2010 campaign, he played just two games for the club in 2011 before being shipped to the New York Red Bulls—who in turn dealt him to D.C. United less than three months later in a surprise trade that didn’t sit well with the veteran. The 16 goals and 11 assists De Rosario recorded across three clubs were enough to earn him the 2011 Most Valuable Player Award, but his experience was a prime example of the caprice and uncertainty often faced by MLS players, who finally secured a limited form of free agency in labor negotiations earlier this year.

“I think [the players] definitely could’ve got more,” he says of the newly-signed collective bargaining agreement, “but definitely the free agency is huge. If this league wants to grow, it has to start adapting to the European ways of doing business. Teams are going to want to start being a little bit more flexible in terms of how they’re spending their money.”

He remains bullish on the league’s future, however. MLS, he says, “is very sustainable, it’s a very balanced league, and anyone can win every week. There’s not a lot of leagues that can boast that competitiveness. Let’s face it: this league is just gonna get bigger and bigger.”

In the meantime, De Rosario is focusing on his development programs, being a parent—“that’s the part I’m really enjoying,” he says—and adjusting to life as a mere spectator of the league on which he’s left such an indelible mark. With a new crop of foreign and homegrown stars now carrying the torch, a wave of expansion clubs reshaping the league, and its profile rising both at home and abroad, it’s important to remember the players who helped lay the foundation upon which MLS will continue to flourish.

“I’ve grown with this league,” says De Rosario, “and I have a lot of respect for where it started, and how far it’s come.”

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