If there was a caveat to Dwayne De Rosario’s historically prolific half-season with D.C. United last year, it was that he set the bar impossibly high.
With goal after goal, the all-time MLS great heaved his new team on his back and nearly carried it to the postseason, earning Most Valuable Player and Golden Boot honors along the way.
So what could De Rosario do for an encore in 2012? With United boasting improved personnel up top, coach Ben Olsen has asked the Canada international to take on more of a facilitator role, regularly slotting the 34-year-old into midfield.
The goals, as expected, are down. But the assists are up — 10 to lead the league, in fact.
“It’s a product of where he’s been playing on the field,” coach Ben Olsen said. “He seems to step up and do the job in whatever position we put him in, and hopefully he’ll continue to do that.”
That seems like a safe bet. At this point, Olsen could almost toss De Rosario a pair of gloves and expect the player to top MLS in shutouts. As teammate Chris Pontius put it, “First and foremost, he’s a winner.”
It’s adaptability that was recognized Sunday when De Rosario was named to his seventh All-Star team as one of four midfielders in the fan-voted First XI.
“It’s such a big thing in American sports, when you get selected as an All-Star,” De Rosario said. “Every player wants to be a part of it. It gives me the opportunity to play with some of the players I admire in this league, so I still feel very honored when I am selected.”
De Rosario, who scored 13 times in 18 games after a trade to United last season, has just five goals in 18 matches this year. More could be on the way, though, now that Branko Boskovic has begun to make his mark in central midfield, a development that could push De Rosario back to forward on a regular basis.
The arduous time spent in midfield thus far, however, has created even more wear and tear for De Rosario, who leads United in minutes despite being the club’s second-oldest player. Last month, he also turned in three 90-minute shifts for the Canada national team while coping with long flights both north of the border and to the Caribbean for World Cup qualifying.
“It’s difficult,” said De Rosario, a onetime vegan who now eats fish but still avoids meat and poultry. “It’s all about managing your body, managing yourself, taking care of yourself outside of training, outside of the field and really trying to do that as much as possible.”
The peak physical condition De Rosario maintains is just one of the ways he leads United by example. Given the full-time captaincy this season, De Rosario has embraced the increased responsibility in just his second campaign with the club.
“To be consistently that good, obviously it shows a lot,” Pontius said. “You go into every game looking to get the three points. And that’s how his mentality is. Obviously, within the locker room, he’s good for a lot of the younger guys. He’s a role model in the way he takes care of himself. I’d say he’s got all the characteristics you’d need and want in a captain.”
Largely thanks to De Rosario, United (10-5-3) are tied for first place in the Eastern Conference going into Sunday’s match at the Houston Dynamo (6-5-7).
For a D.C. team high on talent but low on playoff experience, De Rosario’s status as a four-time MLS Cup champion will be all the more crucial in the season’s second half and beyond.
“To be considered one of the oldest guys on the team is not the best,” De Rosario said with a laugh. “You see these guys calling me Grandpa and stuff. But in all seriousness, it’s a mutual thing. We have a lot of respect for each other, and I try to share a lot of advice and experience with them.
“Even with the coaching staff, Ben’s given that trust. He really wants me to help with the younger guys, keep them inspired, keep them motivated and keep them working hard.”