Tuesday, September 19, 2006
De Rosario makes his case for MVP
I'm thinking about Marco Etcheverry, back in the day, when he was running the midfield with such authority for D.C. United.
I'm thinking about Roberto Donadoni and the panache he supplied, if only briefly, on his one-and-done tour of MLS. I'm thinking about Landon Donovan -- when the confident and engaged Donovan surfaces, as opposed to the bored and plodding Donovan. These are guys who could force you to take special notice when they were around the ball in MLS. Donovan, in fact, is doing it right now. "Sit up straight and watch close," you scold yourself, "because you never know what this cat's gonna do." Such players are joys to watch (not to mention a little too rare in MLS right now). Their eyes are alight with ideas, their feet alive with the ability to execute them. Today, I'm thinking about such artists. In fact, I'm adding a name to the list. I'm thinking about Dwayne De Rosario. The Houston Dynamo man has rounded into one of the league's top midfielders -- and one with a special bent for the crowd-pleasing, spectacular strike. His raw numbers aren't as flashy as Jeff Cunningham's or Christian Gomez's. And he doesn't approach the end of MLS Season 11 with a compelling comeback-kid tale, a la Ante Razov. But the Canadian international is having a smash-bang season for Dominic Kinnear's relocated southern Texas outfit. And there's a case to be made that "De Ro" should claim the league MVP crown that eluded him last year, when he was one of three finalists. De Rosario, simply put, is the best all-around player in MLS right now. Donovan, of course, is mashing the accelerator in Los Angeles and may single-handedly drive a very average team out of MLS playoff no-man's land. Gomez can make a reasonable MVP case at D.C. United, although his surrounding cast looks better than any of his competitors'. Still, if De Rosario, 28, keeps applying steady pressure, the award should be his. He's always dangerous. He's consistent. He's a solid locker room citizen who has gradually accepted more responsibility for making Houston go. The Dynamo's dynamo has 10 goals and five assists through 25 games this year. He carried an extra bucket for much of the summer while Brian Ching went to Germany for Bruce Arena, then turned up injured for much of August. That left young Alejandro Moreno and Chris Wondolowski scrapping for goals up front, which put even more pressure on De Rosario to make things happen on offense. And De Rosario did elevate his game during that time, commanding his part of the field. His touch is clean. His head is always up. The ball stays tight on his feet, which are usually shuffling pretty quickly. Heck, you know a guy is good when he has two nicknames: sometimes he's "De Ro," sometimes he's "DDR." "He's always been dangerous, always been creative and unpredictable," Kinnear said this week. "This season, you can add consistency to his characteristics." Kinnear demurred when asked if De Rosario should be the league choice for MVP. He prefers to concentrate on his team and an impending postseason run instead of wading into politically weighted debates. That's for the rest of us. So let's proceed. De Rosario is in his second season of not just connecting for goals, but conjuring up special ones. (He always had that in him, going all the way back to the 2001 final, when he decided the game after just 11 minutes on the field with an overtime tally.) De Rosario's wonder-strike free kick last year against the Galaxy took the 2005 Goal of the Year honor. He humbly suggested later that there's plenty of luck involved with a beauty like that, and that he's never even hit one that well in practice. De Rosario also supplied the league GOY in 2004, following Etcheverry as the only other player ever to claim that award twice. (Etcheverry. Hmmm. There's that name again.) De Rosario delivered another GOY candidate Aug. 30 at Toyota Park. Yes, Zach Thornton should have done better as De Rosario spanked a ball from the midfield stripe, hurling Chicago's beefy keeper into a desperate and unsuccessful backward scramble. Still, how many MLS players have the confidence and awareness to even try such a thing? And how many have the talent to pull off the 60-yard bomb? Toyota Park was also the scene of another important De Rosario effort this year. Technically speaking, accomplishments in an All-Star game probably shouldn't weigh into MVP debates. But let's be honest here. What De Rosario did against Chelsea that day, scoring the league's only goal and running the midfield with verve, did MLS proud. As for the MLS race, Dallas is running away with the West. But that doesn't mean much in terms of getting to MLS Cup, especially given the Dynamo's apparent edge over its Texas rivals. The teams met five times this year (four in MLS matches, once in the U.S. Open Cup). Houston went 3-1-1 in the series. Why the apparent mismatch? Because De Rosario and central midfield mate Ricardo Clark are far more athletic in the center of the park than Dallas. Clark, 23, has developed into a splendid player himself. His nimble tackling and yeoman work allow De Rosario to channel a little more of his energy into the attack. But that doesn't mean that De Rosario isn't a two-way player. Kinnear's tight system demands that both men in the center of the field chase and clog passing lanes. Watch De Rosario play. He's attacking. Then he's behind the ball. Now he's attacking again. Now he's back behind the ball. De Rosario's place in the center of the park came more or less by accident. Clark and a young Danny O'Rourke were manning the center early last year. Kinnear recognized that the team needed more offensive push from that position. So he moved a lifelong forward back into the midfield and, voila, produced a star. "But I give him credit for that," Kinnear said. "I thought, 'Let's try this and see if it works.' Now, I'd never think about playing him anywhere else." Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com