The passage of time has not mellowed Dwayne de Rosario one bit.
After all these years, the fiery competitive streak and unbridled passion still burns deep within, especially when it comes to representing his country at international level.
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With Canada already eliminated from 2014 World Cup qualifying, one would think De Rosario might consider retiring from the national team to focus on his club career. De Rosario turns 35 in May, so he’s getting on in years, and if Canada did manage to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, he would be 40. So there’s virtually no chance he will get to play on soccer’s greatest and most important stage.
Other national team veterans are being pushed aside to make way for a generation of youngsters as Canada looks to rebuild in the aftermath of the 8-1 loss to Honduras last October. But De Rosario refuses to go gently into that good night, and fully intends to keep making himself available to play for Canada.
“I’ll never quit the national team. Let’s get that clear. I’ll never say I’m quitting,” De Rosario told sportsnet.ca.
Canada’s all-time leading scorer with 20 goals in 72 appearances, De Rosario explained the only reason he would walk away from the national team would be for health issues.
“If I leave, it’ll be because my legs can’t carry me anymore … As long as I’m up for the physical challenge and can impact the team and help the team, then 100 per cent I’ll be there if I get the call,” he stated.
De Rosario wasn’t in San Pedro Sula for the match against Honduras, as he was ruled out with an injury. Instead, he had to watch on television as the Hondurans shipped eight goals past a woeful Canadian side that embarrassed itself and set back the program.
“It was definitely disheartening but it’s situations like that that, believe it or not, make we want to continue to represent my country,” he explained.
How could such an embarrassing result strengthen a player’s resolve, especially a player who is in the final stages of his career? It might be an obvious question, but not when it’s asked of De Rosario, who bristled at the suggestion that he would even consider stop playing for his country.
It’s not so hard to understand why after talking to the Canadian veteran. Any conversation with De Rosario inevitably reveals that has a personal stake and feels deeply invested in the continued development of the sport in this country. He speaks with an evangelical tone, as though he were a preacher who is on a one-man crusade to spread the gospel of Canadian soccer.
Come out from the pews and gather around the pulpit, good people. Minister De Rosario is about to deliver a fire-and-brimstone sermon to the congregation.
“Growing up, I always heard comments like, ‘Canada is not a soccer country,’ or ‘Canada is not a place to play.’ When I went to AC Milan as a youth player on trial, I remember Edgar Davids came up to me and said ‘Hey you’re the Canadian kid.’ And you could just tell he was thinking ‘what would Milan want with a Canadian?” De Rosario recalled.
“We’ve had great players in this country who have played all over the world with distinction. And I’m just sick of that attitude that people have that (Canadian players) can never make it anywhere.”
Such naysayers merely urge him on.
“It’s easy for me to listen to a lot of people who tell me I should retire from the national team and focus on my club career. But again, it’s those people who drive me on to keep playing (for Canada). It’s worth putting my body at risk because it’s the highest honour, to represent your country,” he said.
Simply put, quitting the national team at this point in his career is not an option for De Rosario, who feels he has a duty to try to inspire children across Canada to take up the game.
“If nobody sets the example, these young kids, the next generation, they’ll never understand what it takes to represent your country and what it truly means. I’m trying to hold onto that,” De Rosario admitted.
“It’s an honour and it’s a blessing, and a lot of kids in Canada don’t have the opportunities that I’ve had. That’s why I continue to play, for all those kids.”
It’s not just the next generation of Canadian national team players who De Rosario is trying to reach. It’s the current crop of players, too.
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At 34, the DC United midfielder is currently the oldest member of interim coach Colin Miller’s 22-man squad that lost to Denmark on the weekend and will face the United States on Tuesday.
With an average age of just under 25, this is the youngest Canadian team to be assembled since May 2006, according to the Canadian Soccer Association. Ten players earned their first call-up to the senior team for these two games, with six earning their first caps in the 4-0 loss to Denmark.
Canada’s youth movement is part of strategic plan, with a long-term view of giving the youngsters valuable playing time so that they’ll be more experienced and prepared when the next round of World qualifying begins.
“It’s a good opportunity for these young guys to prove themselves and see how far we need to develop as a country and develop as a team,” De Rosario offered. “A lot of guys are adapting well. There’s still work to do and that’s why these games are very important, and these training camps are important: to prepare for the bigger picture.
“It’s great that we’re doing this earlier than later so these guys will have ample time to gain some seasoning and to prepare for the next World Cup qualifiers by getting a lot of games under their belts.”
As one of only three players on the roster over the age of 30, De Rosario finds himself taking on more of a mentoring lead than he’s done in the past with the national team. It’s a job he’s comfortable with, and he’s happy to impart his knowledge and the wisdom that comes from his past experiences down to the younger generation. He also wants to drill it into their heads how important it is to represent Canada.
“I appreciate the role but I also want them to look at me as a player, too. I don’t want them to think I’m here as an extra coach or anything like that. I’m a player like them, who wants to achieve great things for our country, wanting to develop this sport and get it the respect it deserves,” De Rosario said.