A large contingent of media members swarmed the RFK Stadium practice fields Thursday as D.C. United tuned up for Saturday’s pivotal home match against the Philadelphia Union. Yet reporters took little interest in assessments of the visiting Eastern Conference front-runners.
Thursday’s main attraction was veteran Dwayne De Rosario, the 33-year-old midfielder who arrived in D.C. on the heels of a blockbuster trade that saw the departure of former captain Dax McCarty. De Rosario — a four-time MLS Cup winner and five-time MLS All-Star — scored a career-high 15 goals last season with Toronto FC. On April 1, he was traded to the New York Red Bulls, for whom he notched two goals and four assists before being dealt to United on Monday.
“The transition is not the easiest, but thankfully I’m going to an organization that’s hungry to relive some of the success they had in the past,” De Rosario said. “It’s a style of play that really suits me. I have a great understanding of what [United coach] Ben Olsen has asked of these guys and myself, and I’m looking forward to uniting with them come Saturday.”
Although he said the trade took him by surprise, De Rosario knew United was among a cluster of teams interested in him during the preseason. General manager Dave Kasper had been in contact with his New York counterpart, Erik Soler, about a potential trade for the past month, according to a Washington Post report. Kasper’s push for the trade makes particular sense in light of the struggles of McCarty, whose one shot on goal in 13 appearances for United pointed to his discomfort with the attacking midfielder role placed on him by coaches. De Rosario — whose 80 career goals are 11th best in MLS history — could provide an instant offensive spark to a team that already has produced more goals this season than it did in the entire 2010 campaign.
“It’s very tough to do trades in this league. We’ve wanted [De Rosario] for awhile,” Olsen said. “It finally came our way and we took it. We’re very excited, the organization is excited and I think the fans are excited. So hopefully that all ends up making us a better group.”
De Rosario was quick to point out that this will not be his first time sporting a United uniform. In fact, his MLS career began in D.C. when he played under United assistant coach and fellow Canadian Frank Yallop in a 2001 preseason trip to El Salvador. Yallop subsequently was hired as the coach of the San Jose Earthquakes before that season, and De Rosario was one of his first acquisitions. Now De Rosario sees his career coming full circle, expressing hopes of remaining in D.C. for a long time despite this being the last year of his contract.
After his first practice with the team, the 11-year veteran already found himself jelling nicely with the league’s youngest crop of players.
“It’s a great mix of experience and youth,” De Rosario said. “It’s just getting that understanding on the field, understanding the language of play. Once we’ve got that down pat, I’m pretty sure some positive things are going to start happening.”
Olsen — who is just one year older than his new player (whom he has played against on many occasions) — reiterated that his team’s main goal this season remains the same: reach the playoffs, which have eluded United the past three years.
“I don’t want to put unfair expectations on [De Rosario]. He just came, just got off a flight,” Olsen said. “We’re still a young group. In soccer, one guy can’t change a team that much. He can certainly help in a lot of ways. But we’re still a group that’s going to have some ups and downs.”
Players also cautioned that it will take time to fully develop their chemistry with De Rosario, although they agreed the newcomer could provide an immediate impact. Forward Charlie Davies, tied for the scoring lead in MLS, affirmed that De Rosario’s attacking prowess should make the team’s attack one of the most feared in the league. He was not so sure, however, about how deciding penalty kick-takers might shake out from this point forward.
“We’ll see. I’m 4 for 4, so …” Davies said with a wry smile. “If I got that next penalty, I actually wouldn’t mind giving it to him, letting him get that first goal out of the way and get the monkey off the back. After that we’ll get back to talking.”