TORONTO — Dwayne De Rosario was quick to correct this correspondent when it was put to him that he’s seen very little playing time this season.
“I’m not getting no playing time, man,” De Rosario affirmed.
It wasn’t said with malice or bitterness. There was no pouting and stomping of feet. No act of childish petulance, no mock cheque signing gesture. It was just a simple admission of his honest feelings about his second stint with Toronto FC.
Three years ago, De Rosario was the best player in Major League Soccer, voted the league’s MVP while a member of D.C. United. Today, the 36-year-old native of Scarborough, Ont., barely features for his hometown club. Picked up by Toronto in December after D.C. decided not to re-sign him, De Rosario has made just 10 league appearances (three as a starter) totalling 295 minutes.
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He hasn’t played since the Reds’ 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City on July 26 when he was subbed in with eight minutes left in regulation. Since then he’s been rooted to the bench or worse—he didn’t even dress for TFC in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against the Chicago Fire. With Jermain Defoe leading the team in scoring and Gilberto in fine form with a goal in each of his last four matches, De Rosario finds himself farther down the depth chart now compared to the start of the campaign when there was a great deal of buzz about his return to Toronto.
“We’ve gotten everything from [Dwayne De Rosario],” coach Ryan Nelsen said following the Chicago game. “He’s been fantastic in the locker room. [But] I’ve got a Premier League striker [Luke Moore] on the bench and a Nigerian striker [Bright Dike] who would have been going to the World Cup.”
So no surprise, then, that De Rosario, who still ranks as Toronto FC’s all-time leading scorer stemming from his first tenure with the club, is frustrated with his lack of playing time.
“Extremely. I’ll leave it at that,” De Rosario told Sportsnet in a one-on-one chat.
De Rosario has given some thought about his future, specifically about whether or not he’ll be in Toronto next season. For the time being, though, he remains committed to the club.
“I’m always thinking about what I’m going to do beyond this year but I still enjoy playing and I’m still passionate about it. Obviously, it makes it difficult with the situation I’m currently in. As a player I really want to do well for this city, and want to bring this city, my city, some success. But when your hands are tied it’s tough,” De Rosario said.
It’s clear from talking to De Rosario that his passion for soccer still burns brightly. It’s also clear that whether he’s in Toronto or somewhere else, he plans to keep on playing in 2015. If the Canadian international is thinking about retirement, he’s certainly not talking like someone who’s considering walking away from the game.
“If they want to force me into retirement, if they think I’m going to hang up my boots because I’m not playing, they got another thing coming. … The moment I wake up in the morning and feel like it’s a burden to come out and train and I’m not enjoying it, I won’t play,” De Rosario stated.
“Right now I enjoy playing, in spite of everything, and I still feel like I got a lot to offer.”
Even though he’s not being used by Nelsen, De Rosario firmly remains in the plans of Canadian national team coach Benito Floro. Canada’s all-time top scorer with 20 goals, De Rosario is expected to be named later this week to Floro’s roster for a friendly against Jamaica on Sept. 9 in Toronto.
Neither age nor a lack of playing time with TFC this season has lessened Floro’s evaluation of De Rosario, who is the sixth all-time leading scorer in MLS history with 103 goals—he’s one of only eight players to break the 100-goal plateau.
“De Rosario is a special player because he is a very good player with a lot of experience,” Floro stated. “His spirit is very good and tactically he is very intelligent and physically he is not bad. It is true; that he is not starting [with Toronto] is a little bit of a problem. But I think De Rosario can still help us until he decides that he doesn’t want to play anymore.”
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Floro has a great deal of respect for De Rosario, and the feeling is mutual.
“What I like about Benito is he’s straight with you. He’s personable and tells us if we have any problems, no matter what they are, that we can come talk to him and that we can find a solution. Obviously we’re not going to agree on everything but at least you have that environment where there’s room for discussions. He treats me like a man and I respect that,” De Rosario said.
With 77 caps to his credit, De Rosario needs eight more to surpass Paul Stalteri as Canada’s all-time appearance leader. It’s not records that drive him on, though, but instead a simple desire to represent his country.
“I’m always going to be a part of the national team. When I get the call, I always feel like it’s the first time with that excitement and I can’t wait for that experience to represent Canada again,” De Rosario offered.
“Next year is a year that I’m really looking forward to because Canada is in the Gold Cup and it’s a big one because if we make the semifinal we go into the Copa America. It’s huge.”
A final-four showing at the CONCACAF Gold Cup is a pretty ambitious goal for a Canadian side currently No. 122 in the FIFA world rankings — sandwiched between the Central African Republic and Guinea-Bissau, to say nothing of the fact that the Reds are riding a 16-game winless run.
Canada hasn’t tasted victory since a 3-0 decision over Cuba in a World Cup qualifier on Oct. 12, 2012 when coach Stephen Hart was still in charge. In 2013, the Canadian team scored just one goal in 13 games (with 10 losses) and drew its only two games this year back in May.
These are very hard times for Floro, as he tries to rebuild a national team program still haunted by that horrific 8-1 loss to Honduras that ended Canada’s dreams of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
De Rosario insists Canada has to first develop a winning attitude if it’s going to earn results on the pitch.
“Our mentality has to change. Our mentality has to be that we’re going to win in every game. I don’t care if we’re playing in Mexico, I don’t care if we’re playing in Honduras or Costa Rica or the U.S.—we have to go into each game thinking we’re going to win and do it by any means necessary because those teams have that mentality. I think we’re too complacent and [being happy in] just participating, ”De Rosario explained.
He later added: “I’m sick and tired of having that notion hanging over our heads that we’re a Third World nation when it comes to soccer. As of right now we are, but we have to get over that and starting turning this into a First World soccer country. There’s no reason why we can’t. We have the resources to do it, and with Benito in place he wants to lead the charge.”