De Rosario regaining his old spark

November 16, 2007
CarlisleBy Jeff Carlisle
(Archive)

WASHINGTON -- It's a move that Dwayne De Rosario calls "the Shake-and- Bake" -- that being the goal celebration that makes him look one part robot, another part P-Funk All-Star. But for De Rosario, the routine isn't just about goals. It's a way of paying tribute to his Scarborough, Ontario roots.

"People try to call it the Funky Chicken, but that will never come out of my mouth," De Rosario told ESPN back in 2005. "It's for my friend, Danley Johnson. He had a signature move called the Shake-and-Bake, and I just kind of turned that into my game celebration.

MLS Cup
New England vs. Houston

Sunday
RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
Noon ET, ABC

"I'm out here playing, but I'm also out here representing a lot of people in Canada that I grew up with."

It's a ritual that De Rosario showed off plenty of times in 2005 and 2006, seasons that saw him deliver MVP-caliber performances. But 2007 has served up a new set of challenges. While De Rosario can still occasionally surprise opponents with his late runs into the box, the Canadian is more of a known quantity, and he's now often the focal point for opposition defenses. Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear has also noticed that more MLS teams are playing with two holding midfielders, making life more difficult for De Rosario.

"A lot of teams are really trying to clog the middle and let their wide players be the spearhead for their attack," said Kinnear earlier this week. "That does tend to limit [De Rosario's] space a little bit."

There have been other factors as well. De Rosario spent most of June at the Gold Cup playing for Canada, and when combined with Houston's crowded calendar, the Dynamo midfielder seemed to lack the jump in his legs that he had in years past. As a result, De Rosario's stats were down significantly this year, tallying just six goals and four assists.

But recent weeks have seen the old De Rosario begin to re-emerge. His perfect through ball earlier in the playoffs against Dallas saw Brian Ching rifle home the series-tying goal, and his late strike in the Western Conference final salted away the Dynamo's 2-0 win over Kansas City.

With Houston going for its second straight MLS title on Sunday against New England, the Dynamo will need the resurgent De Rosario to take center stage, and he'll need to do it against a midfield sporting the twin destroyer model. In particular, the Rev's Shalrie Joseph will look to minimize De Rosario's influence, something he did to perfection in last year's final. But De Rosario has a simple solution for turning the tables on Joseph this year.

"Keep attacking," said the Houston midfielder. "The more I attack, the more [Joseph] has to worry about me. That's what we have to focus on."

Kinnear added that it won't be enough for the Dynamo to just attack. What will be paramount is how and when they attack.

"We have to move the ball fast, because if you dwell on it, it gives [New England] a chance to really kind of set up shop," said Kinnear. "I think one of the good things for us that we do pretty well is that when the ball turns over, our first pass is forward and will be supported quickly. I think when we do that, we're a much more dangerous team ... I think Dwayne's strength is going on the break."

Given that New England is adept at getting numbers behind the ball, catching the Revs on the counter will prove difficult. But if there is one player on Sunday that has the element of surprise about him, it's De Rosario, and one moment of his magic might be enough for Houston to retain their crown, as well as spark another rendition of the Shake-and-Bake.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.