In the fall of 2000, after missing the playoffs for the first time in Major League Soccer’s five seasons, United embarked on a tour of El Salvador. Not everyone on the roster was available, so then-Coach Thomas Rongen summoned guest players. Among them was De Rosario, a 22-year-old, dreadlocked midfielder who had shown promise in two campaigns with the second-tier Richmond Kickers and had made the Canadian national team.
De Rosario was planning a move to MLS, and United hoped to keep him under wraps before submitting a claim with the league. “We recognized his talent,” Rongen recalled, “and did everything we could to keep him.”
But Rongen’s top assistant, Frank Yallop, was soon hired as the San Jose Earthquakes’ head coach. Yallop and De Rosario had been roommates while on Canada duty together, and in his San Jose rebuilding efforts, Yallop pegged De Rosario as a cornerstone. Because the Earthquakes had finished one point behind United in the overall standings, they held priority in MLS player acquisitions.
“I thought I would end up in D.C.,” said De Rosario, who was a frequent visitor to Washington during his time in Richmond, in part to see the woman whom he would marry, Brandy, who attended Howard University. “When Frank went to San Jose, everything changed.
“It took a while,” he said with a smile Tuesday, “but I made it to D.C.”
Between the El Salvador trip and his reunion with United last week, De Rosario, 33, forged one of the finest careers in MLS history.
In his first season at San Jose, paired with league newcomer Landon Donovan, he scored six minutes into sudden-death overtime as the Earthquakes won the 2001 MLS Cup with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy. De Rosario was named the match’s MVP.
The Earthquakes won the title again in 2003, and after the organization moved to Houston and became the Dynamo, he was part of the 2006 trophy winner. The following year, De Rosario’s goal and assist in a 2-1 win over the New England Revolution at RFK Stadium earned him another championship game MVP award.
His portfolio also includes five Best XI all-league honors, five all-star selections and two MLS goal of the year honors. For Canada, his 17 goals rank third in national team history, two behind leader Dale Mitchell.
The past few years, however, have not been as firm or fruitful. After eight seasons with San Jose/Houston, he was traded in 2009 to Toronto FC, his hometown team.
This spring, just two weeks into his third season with the turbulent Canadian club, De Rosario was shipped to New York. He didn’t fit into the Red Bulls’ system, however, and was on the move again, this time to Washington.
United had tried to acquire De Rosario last year and “made a pretty aggressive offer,” D.C. President Kevin Payne said, declining to disclose details. “We talked to them again all through preseason and thought we had things done but they ended up doing it with New York.”
United and New York then entered talks in May before reaching a deal that sent midfielder Dax McCarty, 24, to the Red Bulls last week.
In his debut Saturday, De Rosario set up Josh Wolff’s 44th-minute goal during a 2-2 draw with the first-place Philadelphia Union. His presence has diversified United’s attack, which had become too dependent on flank play to generate opportunities.
“He pulls the strings,” said Coach Ben Olsen, whose club is 4-5-7 heading into Saturday’s match at New York. “He slows us down offensively in a good way: It’s a little less chaotic, a little more methodical.”
Though born and brought up in Canada, De Rosario fell under Caribbean influences. His parents, Tony and Carol, emigrated from Guyana, a former British colony on the north coast of South America. In Scarborough, Ontario, which is part of Toronto, Dwayne learned soccer on the streets of the diverse Malvern neighborhood.
“I was born kicking,” he said of his lifelong connection to soccer. “Man, soccer was all around me. It was my love.”
At age 12, he was invited to join an elite travel squad for a tournament in England, a trip that opened his eyes to soccer as a profession. Two years later, he trained with AC Milan and Marseille’s youth squads. Milan, he said, offered him a five-year deal, but because of his close ties to home and family, he returned to Canada.
His first contract, in 1997 at age 18, was with the Toronto Lynx in the second-tier A-League. United goalkeepers coach Pat Onstad was the goalie on that squad, and the pair later became teammates on the Earthquakes, Dynamo and Canadian national team.
“He’s a good ‘selfish’ player, if you can put it that way,” Onstad said. “He feels that if he has the ball, that’s the best place where the ball should be. The guy has a hunger to score and a hunger to win.”
Europe beckoned later that year, and De Rosario spent two seasons with FSV Zwickau, in the former East Germany. Upon his return, he connected with the Kickers, flirted with United, then embarked on a decade-long journey through MLS before returning to Washington.
“In a way,” he said, “I feel like it’s come full circle.”