Toronto scores big with trade for De Rosario
So how does a blockbuster trade such as the one that sent three-time MLS Cup MVP Dwayne De Rosario to Toronto FC for rookie defender Julius James and an allocation get made? It happens only when you have two teams desperate to make a deal and a special player with an unyielding desire to return home.
In one corner was a young franchise in Toronto FC that needed an iconic figure, a franchise player who could capture the imagination of its fan base while making an impact on the field. In the other corner was a once-dominant Houston club that suddenly needed to revamp its roster after seeing its reign as league champion ended.
Then, there was De Rosario, the hometown hero who was desperate to return home and be a part of the blossoming soccer hotbed Toronto has become.
De Rosario made it no secret that he wanted to go back to Canada, and playing for Toronto FC always seemed inevitable for the native of the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. That De Rosario gave his all in the dying minutes of the summer's MLS All-Star Game in Toronto, a game De Rosario played despite only one day's rest yet still managed to deliver the winning penalty kick, said it all. As the fans at BMO Field chanted his name, it was clear on that night in July that De Rosario would return north sooner rather than later.
But the Houston Dynamo still had to want to make a trade. On Friday, the deal happened because the Dynamo came to the realization that they had to revamp a roster that was showing vulnerabilities that didn't exist when the team was winning MLS Cup titles in 2006 and 2007. The departure of Nate Jaqua, potential departure of Brian Ching and likely departure of stalwart defender Bobby Boswell forced the Dynamo to consider how to revamp their roster without tearing it apart.
As much as all parties involved needed the trade to happen, Toronto FC still came away the clear winner. TFC director of soccer Mo Johnston has caught his share of flak for the team's lack of success in the past two seasons, but there is no denying that he has set Toronto up for a big 2009. Add De Rosario to three first-round draft picks in what is considered a strong upcoming draft in January, $800,000 in allocation money as well as a designated player slot the team is expected to use, and you realize that Toronto had the resources to pay more for De Rosario but didn't.
Johnston managed to land one of the league's best midfielders and a renowned clutch player, and he did so without giving up a key starter or any of the team's three first-round draft picks. Throw in that Houston accepted what sources say was an allocation less than $200,000, and you get the sneaking suspicion that Toronto FC played hardball and Houston relented.
Toronto's reward is a player who will boost a Toronto attack that struggled at times. Whether TFC groups De Rosario with Amado Guevara and Carl Robinson in a 4-5-1 formation or plays De Rosario as a withdrawn forward in a 4-4-1-1, the prospect of having the creative tandem of De Rosario and Guevara working together is a scary proposition. Especially if you consider that Toronto is expected to use its designated player slot on a forward.
Something that should be noted, and something Houston will quietly remind people, is that De Rosario is coming off a subpar season. He managed just seven goals and two assists in 24 MLS matches. He clearly felt the fatigue of Houston's packed schedule. But there is a belief that playing back home in Canada will re-energize the 30-year-old playmaker and return him to his all-star level.
The lingering question that stands out when looking at this trade is, why did Houston deal De Rosario for seemingly so little? The reality is that there wasn't a huge market for De Rosario because of his salary, his desire for a new contract and the leaguewide knowledge that he wanted to play only for Toronto. With only one team to deal him to, Houston was left with poor bargaining position, and it showed in what most experts will call a lopsided deal.
Although that may be so, a closer look at the deal reveals that it could help Houston on a variety of fronts. In swapping De Rosario for James and between $150,000 and $175,000 in allocation money, the Dynamo gain a potential net of up to $350,000 of salary-cap space. Houston is expected to use that cap space to use its designated player, with a marquee forward at the top of the team's list of needs.
James also is very high on the lists of several MLS clubs that considered him the best defender in the 2008 MLS draft. Although James did struggle at times as a rookie for Toronto, he still boasts the athleticism and toughness that many scouts believe could help him turn into an elite defender.
Houston likely will need James to replace Boswell, who is a free agent and is expected to move to Europe. Although James lacks experience, he boasts the type of speed the Houston back line needs, as anyone who watched Dane Richards torch the Dynamo in the playoffs can attest.
So how will the Dynamo replace De Rosario? Houston already has his replacement in U.S. Olympic team midfielder Stuart Holden, one of the league's best young players. Holden would have started for most teams in MLS but came off the bench for the deep Houston team this season.
In the end, Houston won't regret this deal if Holden flourishes, if its DP signing isn't a flop and if James is a standout defender. But if more than one of these doesn't break right for the Dynamo, critics will look back on this trade as the real beginning of the end for the Dynamo.
As for TFC, the club landed the player it has long coveted and is one step closer to completing a rebuilding project that will see it go from missing the playoffs to winning a title. For Johnston & Co., 2009 is a make-or-break season, and Friday's trade is a major step toward Toronto's establishing itself as a legitimate force next season.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.