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  • DeRo: "The future definitely looks bright for Canadian soccer"


    ccs-3097-140264010681_thumb.jpgDwayne DeRosario is what most people would call a "mercurial" athlete. Occasionally brilliant, occasionally maddening, sometimes confounding but indisputably talented. His late-career renaissance -- claiming the MLS Golden Boot, and possibly the league MVP award, despite playing for three different teams in 2011 -- has cemented his status as one of the greatest Canadian players of all time.

    So what does the player sometimes derisively known as "MeRo" think of the prospect that his unlikely year could be capped off by winning the league's top individual award?

    "To win it would be quite huge, not just for me, but for the Canadian kids aspiring to play professional soccer," he said on Friday. It would be a "huge boost" for the game in Canada, showing youngsters (particularly those in disadvantaged areas like the part of Scarborough, Ont. where DeRosario grew up) that "you can do it ... regardless of what your situation is, you can overcome it."

    Whatever his past issues for club and country may have been, it certainly seems as though DeRosario is intent on absolutely maximizing whatever amount of playing time he has left... for both club(s) and country.


    "Hopefully I'll have a couple more seasons like this," the 33-year-old said. "Every year I want to improve, I want to get better ... and it'll be no different next year."

    Given his fitness regimen and durability, it's not out of the realm of possibility. And that bodes well not just for whichever MLSers he lines up beside in 2012, but for the men's national team as they push toward the dream of the 2014 World Cup.

    "Very positive," he said, when asked about the mood in the Canadian camp thus far. "We're looking forward to getting business done this next round and moving on."

    Canada needs a mere single point against St. Kitts and Nevis in two matches next month to clinch a spot in next summer's third round of World Cup qualifying. And while advancement is all but assured, DeRosario echoed the positive sentiments of many when it comes to the squad's second-round grouping with St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Puerto Rico.

    "While we're playing those teams, other teams are playing international friendlies and they're also getting together," he said. "This is an opportunity for us to get ready for the tougher rounds.

    "It gives not only us as players an opportunity to get a feel for each other ... but also gives our coaching staff an opportunity to implement the way they want us to play ... It's a good platform for us to play with each other and build for the future."

    While the competition has been easy (save for the frustrating 0-0 draw with Puerto Rico at BMO Field on Oct. 11), the travel -- as always -- has been tough for a team with players based across North America and in Europe.

    "It does take a toll on the body," DeRosario said of the travel, noting that players with teams on North America's west coast can sometimes travel as far as those based in Europe to get to Canada's games. "(But) once you get into the camp and you're with the guys and start playing, you overcome all that physical and mental stress."

    With all three home World Cup qualifiers in this round being played at BMO Field, some have worried about the team perhaps never leaving the alleged "national soccer stadium". Supporters have been wringing their hands for months over the location(s) of Canada's three home dates in the next round, wondering whether the players' supposed aversion to travel and desire to play on grass would severely limit venue options (possibly to a single spot -- Toronto).

    And having mentioned the stress of excessive travel, you may think the born-and-bred Toronto boy would be fully supportive of playing all of Canada's World Cup qualifiers at BMO Field in 2012, right? Not exactly.

    "It's important for us as a whole, in terms of developing as a country in the world of football, I think it's very important that we first and foremost narrow down a passionate home base, wherever that may be," said DeRosario, when asked what he as a player prioritized when it came to venue selection.

    "Right now, Toronto has a great support for the (national team) and everyone seems to enjoy playing there, but I don't think any of us as players mind where we play in Canada. We just want the backing of a strong home support ... (It's important to develop a) good, passionate home environment in Canada where, when we go play at home against teams, it can really be a distraction and pose a threat to the opposing team... We face that everywhere we go, so it would be nice to have that same environment in Canada."

    Go where the fans will want you. Makes sense. After his cheque-signing stunt in 2010, it seemed DeRo wore out his welcome in Toronto (though many of the TFC faithful have fully forgiven him), and never caught on with Red Bulls fans since they don't exist... but in D.C., he found a supportive environment that let him finish a truly remarkable season in the way that he has.

    "The fans took to me, they showed me a lot of support ... It made things off the field a lot more easy, but it was definitely a difficult year.

    "Once I'm on the field, that's where my heart and passion is."

    These days, he's showing it, as he marches toward breaking Dale Mitchell's all-time scoring record of 19 goals for Canada (DeRosario sits on 18). Incidentally, Mitchell was Canada's head coach during the disastrous 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, in which DeRosario (and a number of other players) openly revolted, leading some to question whether the man of the chicken-dance goal celebration would ever suit up for Canada again.

    But under head coach Stephen Hart, he's been reborn. Clearly something has lit a spark in DeRosario, whether it's a genuine desire to serve as a role model for young, first-generation Canadians in similar upbringings to the one he had, or the hope of finally landing a big-money designated player contract in D.C. or elsewhere. Whatever his motivation, his on-field performance and leadership will be crucial for a Canadian squad still trying to incorporate up-and-comers into the mix.

    "(It's) very important to help develop the future and let them experience what it's like playing in Central America and wearing your national team jersey," he said. "The future definitely looks bright for Canadian soccer ... If we can continue to get the results and develop in a positive way."

    Ah, the big, ever-present if.

    Perhaps DeRosario claiming an MVP award would ignite that flame within youngsters across the nation. More likely, though, a berth in the World Cup would be the biggest boost possible for the sport.

    And whether or not that's possible rests largely on which Dwayne DeRosario shows up in red and white over the next two years.


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