D.C. holds Dwayne De Rosario in high regard. How high?
“As far as I am concerned,” club president Kevin Payne said Tuesday, ”Dwayne is the most accomplished professional athlete in Washington, D.C. — actually by a pretty considerable margin."
So signing De Rosario, the 2011 MLS most valuable player, to a new contract became United’s top priority during the offseason. It took a while, but with the March 10 season opener fast approaching, the sides came to agreement on a long-term deal in the past week.
De Rosario, 33, signed the contract Monday and spoke publicly about it for the first time Tuesday at RFK Stadium. His previous pact, which paid him about $500,000 last year, was to expire after this season. The new salary was not disclosed, but Payne said multiple years are guaranteed and the club holds options for future seasons.
“I can’t deny it didn’t go through some trying times, difficult times, but we spoke and [his agent David Baldwin and United officials] continued to keep on top of it and made my focus and decision a lot more easy,” said De Rosario, who was wearing a white T-shirt with a print of a multi-colored fist honoring John Carlos’s salute at the 1968 Olympics.
“I’m honored to be attached to a club with such rich history, a club that wants to relive some of that history, and I am very excited to help this club see this in the near future.”
De Rosario was acquired from the New York Red Bulls in the middle of last season and recorded 13 goals and seven assists in 18 appearances to finish as MLS’s leading scorer (16 goals overall).
After playing in San Jose, Houston, Toronto and New York, he says he has found a home in Washington.
“I don’t want to go back and speak about New York and Toronto — I’m looking for the future, and my future is with D.C. United. I definitely feel a lot more settled mentally, emotionally and physically.”
Although negotiations overlapped with training camp, De Rosario didn’t seem distracted. He has taken a greater leadership role this year and, according to Coach Ben Olsen, is under consideration to become captain. Olsen also mentioned defender Robbie Russell and forward Josh Wolff, last year’s captain.
Commenting on the negotiations, “My role in this whole thing was just stay the hell out of everything,” Olsen said. “Dwayne and I had a very good understanding: We would let everybody deal with the business side and we will get along with business as usual.”
De Rosario is bracing for a demanding year. Aside from being the focal point of United’s attack, he is the centerpiece for Canada’s national team, which will resume 2014 World Cup qualifying with two matches in June and four in the fall.
Olsen’s challenge is balancing the need to have De Rosario on the field and the need to keep him healthy and fresh.
“It’s not necessarily easy because Dwayne always wants to play,” he said. ”Sometimes I will have to make some difficult decisions and gauge him. But Dwayne does an unbelievable job at his young age to take care of his body.
“He isn’t a spring chicken,” Olsen added, which drew a sideways glance and playful smirk from De Rosario, “and we will have to manage him like we manage a bunch of our guys. After they turn 30, it is a little different the way you manage them. The beauty of Dwayne is he doesn’t need to train every day to show up on the weekends and do what he does. We have an open dialogue and very good relationship and we’ll keep it open and do what’s best for our club.”
United’s acquisition of forward Hamdi Salihi and other attacking players will help ease the pressure on De Rosario. Nonetheless, he will remain a marked man.
“For 10 years, the opposing coach has circled his name,” Olsen said. ”That’s never going to change and he is used to it, but overall we have more weapons. ... He is a game-changer. Now I think we have another one.”
United will practice in Arlington again Wednesday before departing for Charleston, S.C., site of the Carolina Challenge Cup, a four-team preseason tournament.
United continues to evaluate several trialists vying for the last roster slots. The latest arrival was Guillerme, a 20-year-old left back from Brazilian club Botafogo. In initial workouts, he has displayed smooth ball control, speed and the ability to join the attack.
“He’s good, he’s young, he’s got a lot of tools,” Olsen said. “It’s always tough, coming here and jumping right into things. We need a couple more days to see what he’s capable of. The first impressions were pretty good.”
If interested, United would acquire him on a season-long loan.
The club is also continuing to evaluate defender Jose Burciaga Jr., 30, who hasn’t played in MLS since 2008. He’s been gone so long, his name appeared on the National Soccer Hall of Fame ballot this month.
“He’s looking for a fresh start,” Olsen said. “He’s done a good job. In the end, we’ll see how things go down in Charleston.”