Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dwayne De Rosario: The Enigma Variations

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma
- Winston Churchill, October 1, 1939, on Russia

The Enigma Variations represent the finest work of turn of the century English composer Edward Elgar. Each of the variations was composed in honour a different one of his friends or acquaintances. The entire set was said, by Elgar himself, to hint and some unplayed hidden theme, which he would go to his grave without revealing.

[part 1] [part 2]

Dwayne De Rosario is a figure whose diverse performances for his (now many) club sides and for Canada are cause for much discussion and controversy, the reasons for which are equally shrouded in mystery.


As you should by now have heard, De Rosario is the 2011 MLS Most Valuable Player. By any statistical measure, he had an outstanding individual season, scoring 16 goals and adding 12 assists. The award voters were able to look past the fact that all 3 teams he was a part of failed to make the playoffs, and so should you. MVP awards across the sports world routinely favour the most outstanding player over the far more nebulous 'most valuable'. Dwayne was surely the most outstanding in 2011.

And he's had an outstanding MLS career. My earliest memory of watching any MLS match was the 2001 final, televised on ABC. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the young Canadian, only to be disappointed that he had started the match on the bench. But he entered as a supersub, scoring the golden goal (remember those?) that delivered the championship to the San Jose Earthquakes.

He is now a 4-time MLS Cup winner, and one of the league's most consistent talents over the last decade. He seems to have developed the outsized attitude to go along with his considerable talent, but I won't begrudge him that. At the MLS level, it is well-earned, and he should rightly feel slighted when teammates are paid far better.


Also in the last week, De Rosario has placed himself in the conversation with the all-time greats (such as they are) in a Canadian shirt by scoring his 19th international goal, tying former coach Dale Mitchell at the top of the list.

He reached this level in most inspiring fashion: by converting 4 penalties in 2011, each earned not by himself but a teammate.

The enigma of Dwayne De Rosario is that his 10 years of MLS success have not translated to consistent positive play for Canada. He reached the 19-goal plateau, itself not much to get excited about (Landon Donovan has 46 goals for the USA), not so much through consistent greatness, but rather by being the most-capped ever of Canada's attacking players. Being the designated penalty-taker for most of his run has not hurt either.

More often than not his performances on the pitch have been frustrating and underwhelming. In MLS he is a bona fide star, and has the attitude to go with it, and teams are built around him. For Canada, he fails to fit into the team concept and therefore drifts into and out of games. This was much in evidence in the latest round against Puerto Rico, St Kitts, and St Lucia where he was the only attacking player to fail to score from open play, despite playing the most minutes of any Canadian.

Ego is not the problem. If anything, Canada's rosters are full of players that lack for confidence and deliver performances that are far too timid in big moments. Ego men are the ones that take big games by the balls. Think Wesley Sneijder for the Dutch in South Africa.

Somehow, Dwayne's ego seems only to lead to sulking. He seems to revel in drawing attention to his own good deeds (the "one love" scrawled on an undershirt in 2001 is Dwayne's twitter in 2011) but despite being Canada's captain, fails to lead in word or deed.

It remains to be seen whether De Rosario can be made to work within the rigid tactical framework required in international football, where tight timelines prevent the free-flowing chemistry that is possible on the best club teams. It seems to me that Stephen Hart is hardly the man to make this happen.

As a Canadian supporter, one cannot but be excited for Dwayne in MLS and the recognition of the MVP award. Ultimately, though, he will be a big part of deciding whether Canada will reach the Hex next year. Unless something changes, it is hard to imagine a team in which he is the most influential figure winning on a sweaty Panamian evening, or against a hostile Honduran crowd in Montreal.

Though it is inevitable that De Rosario will soon stand alone as Canada's all-time leading scorer, it is not foreordained that the riddle of De Ro and his Canadian performances will ever be unraveled.


Anonymous said...

"As a Canadian supporter, one cannot but be excited for Dwayne in MLS and the recognition of the MVP award."

False. DeRo abandoned the team in a competitive tournament for his club, which only benefits one particular set of fans I can think of.

DeRo has always valued his own performance over that of his team's, and you can see that through the fact that regardless of how many statistics he racked up, none of his MLS teams did as well with him as without him, and the Canada squad seemed somewhat in disarray.

He is not the sort of scorer that ought to be captain.

J said...

I suppose where I was coming from, in the quoted section, is from an MLS neutral, I enjoy seeing the success of Canadian players recognized. The fact that over the course of his career De Rosario has become less able to function within a team concept colours that somewhat, but I have a hard time discounting his achievements entirely.

Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting.

Anonymous said...

DeRo is about DeRo. I get the cynical feeling that if he already had a tie (or lead) in the all time MNT scoring record he would have stayed with DC United for their important game in Vancouver (which resulted in a loss) instead of joining the NT.

The one thing that makes me chuckle is the suggestion by some of his being used as a "super sub." Now, to his credit under Hart he has stuck to the coach's game plan in particular roles (i.e. he played strictly as a winger vs Guadeloupe in the last GC and not as the freelancing, attacking mid we usually expect). But his being a nonstarting player isn't going to happen, especially under Hart. The moment he's shown a seat on the bench for a competitive WCQ match is the moment he will piss off and announce his "international retirement." Now, if he did accept such a role I would be geniunely impressed but I honestly don't see that happening. Oddly enough, I feel the same way about Julian de Guzman if he were thrust into the same scenario.


J said...

Julian de Guzman has come off the bench in recent memory whereas De Rosario has not. That said, I don't think JDG would take kindly to being shuffled into a bench role, which could very well occur should his brother be brought into the fold.

Anonymous said...

Yes I have seen JDG not starting in friendlies (most recently vs Ecuador) but I think if it's a game that counts (GC or WCQ) and where fitness is not an issue (as it was prior to the USA game), if JdG is left on the bench in place of someone like Johnson partnering Hutchinson, then I agree that we won't see a happy camper. I definitely see that happening with DeRo on the bench.

J said...

Because he has never really been the man in any of his previous club situations, I am more willing to consider the possibility that JDG could handle a demotion to the bench. De Rosario, for nearly the last decade, has been the focal point of his teams in MLS and obviously has his own interpretation of the "team" concept.

That said, it would be a shock for JDG and you could very well be right, but that doesn't mean the coach shouldn't try it if he is legitimately passed on the depth chart.

Anonymous said...

However, from several perspectives in the last five years, JDG has also been "the man" for us with the MNT regardless of his club roles. And that brings us onto a tangent discussion that so many supporters expected him to be "the man" at TFC but it has been pretty clear that he is a supporting role character who has only truly flourished with when real leading characters took to the stage (Frings and Koevermans), but that discussion is for another day.

In the end, it will take a strong-willed gaffer to put both these guys on the bench if (and a big if, at that) other candidates emerge and the team plays better and is more successful as a result. Hart doesn't have that fortitude to make such a tough-minded decision.