CARSON, Calif. — It's safe to say Dwayne De Rosario is the most unconventional Most Valuable Player in Major League Soccer's 16-year history.
After all, when the D.C. United midfielder-forward on Friday accepted the trophy at the Home Depot Center in Carson, the site of Sunday's MLS Cup, he became the first player from a club that did not make the playoffs to claim MVP honors. And De Rosario is also the only athlete from a major North American sports league to earn the accolade while playing for three teams in one season.
But whatever detriment those factors were to his MVP odds ultimately mattered not, as voters chose to reward the lethal attacking force who scored a league-leading 16 goals and notched 12 assists, including 13 strikes and seven helpers after joining United in a June trade with the New York Red Bulls.
To put those numbers in perspective, no other player in the top 40 for goals scored this season reached double-digit assists. As D.C.'s fourth MVP, De Rosario ensured his name will down in club lore alongside past winners Marco Etcheverry (1998), Christian Gomez (2006) and Luciano Emilio (2007).
"In all of our years, we've had some great, great players," said United president Kevin Payne, who accompanied De Rosario at the MVP ceremony. "I've never seen a better performance than what we got from Dwayne — not only the number of goals and number of assists, but the quality of the goals. It was pretty remarkable."
The 33-year-old carried a rebuilding D.C. side that stayed in the playoff race until the season's final week, scoring or assisting 20 of the 28 goals United bagged following his arrival. Whether he was deployed as a creative presence out of central midfield or a menacing target up top, De Rosario was in a league of his own throughout the second half of the campaign.
His tallies came in a variety of stunning packages, including headers, penalty kicks, one-time blasts and, most memorably, a curling, long-range free kick that earned Goal of the Year consideration. De Rosario recorded two hat tricks during the stellar run of form, including the fastest in league history (three goals by the 31st minute) in a 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Sept. 24.
The Canadian, as a result, finished comfortably ahead of the MVP runner-up, Brad Davis of the Houston Dynamo. FC Dallas' Brek Shea finished third, while Landon Donovan of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Mauro Rosales of the Seattle Sounders rounded out the top five.
"We would have loved to see Brad win," said Houston coach Dominic Kinnear, who is preparing his side to face Los Angeles in the MLS Cup. "We knew it was going to be close, but I think Dwayne is a deserving recipient of the award — possibly long overdue."
Although De Rosario narrowly edged out Davis in the voting by club representatives and media, he was the runaway winner among players, garnering more than three times as many votes as any other candidate.
"I don't just play in the league — I'm a fan of it. I admire a lot of players," De Rosario said. "That's the greatest feeling one could ever receive, when fellow players identify with your hard work and dedication and commitment."
De Rosario began the season with his hometown team, Toronto FC, before being shipped to New York on April 1. But he never truly found his rhythm in New York's big-name lineup and was sent to D.C. for midfielder Dax McCarty on June 27, after just 13 games with the Red Bulls.
It turned to be one of the biggest steals in MLS history. McCarty struggled to lock down a starting role in the New York midfield while De Rosario went on to further enhance his status as one of the most decorated players the league has ever seen.
All told, De Rosario has won four MLS Cups (earning MVP honors for two of those contests), been named to six All-Star squads, and scored 93 goals — good for seventh all-time. He still referred to his latest accomplishment, however, as the "highest honor I have ever received in my career."
Even though D.C. holds an option to keep De Rosario under contract for one year, Payne said the club will sit down with his representatives, noting United "do think that Dwayne has more than one year left in the tank at a very high level."
After emphasizing the toll relocation had on his family during his tumultuous 2011 season, De Rosario seems more than happy to embrace a long-term arrangement in the nation's capital.
"I think there's something very special in that locker room, which we can really grow on," De Rosario said. "I'm very comfortable and happy with where I'm at right now with D.C."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.