MVP De Rosario displays his flair for the dramatic
WASHINGTON -- Dwayne De Rosario shook off the residue from a slightly staid season to rise at the right moment.
The Houston Dynamo's flashy midfielder rose in both the figurative sense -- lifting his team to a second consecutive MLS title with a 2-1 win over the Revolution -- and the most literal sense to score his most important goal since 2001.
That shot provided the franchise, which has since moved to Houston, with its historic first MLS title. On Sunday at brisk-but-bouncing RFK Stadium, the man they call "De Ro" leapt above Jay Heaps to smash in yet another historic goal. It established the Dynamo as repeat champs, the first in Major League Soccer since those fashionable D.C. United teams of the late 1990s.
De Rosario also provided a game-changing assist Sunday, supplying the ball that Joseph Ngwenya turned into a second-half Dynamo equalizer. For his big part in Houston's rising dominance over MLS -- four titles in seven years -- De Rosario was named MLS Cup 2007 Most Valuable Player.
(Then he scored bonus points with mommies, daddies and grandparents everywhere, bringing his wife and three children into the postgame press conference, even letting 6-year-old son Osaze carry the MVP trophy up to the interview podium.)
The Dynamo needed something special from De Rosario against the Revs. The defending champs had a little more of the possession in the opening 45 minutes but weren't turning it into much. The ever opportunistic Taylor Twellman put New England in control with a 20th-minute header.
Chasing the game a bit, Houston manger Dominic Kinnear switched out of his preferred 4-4-2 alignment near the 60th minute. The move was mostly about getting a little more wide play. But it was also about getting De Rosario forward a little more, getting him free from Shalrie Joseph more frequently. Ngwenya and Nate Jaqua were latching onto the Dynamo entry passes but rarely connecting to the next link on the chain, which should have been De Rosario.
Soon after the switch, Brian Mullan provided a cross that skipped through the penalty area and nearly over the goal line. De Rosario was quick to the errant ball, then quick to exploit the opportunity by charging aggressively from the left side and feeding the ball that turned the match.
Ngwenya still had some work to do, cleaning up his own mess after first whiffing on the pass from six yards. But Ngwenya was quicker to the loose ball from there, pouncing before goalkeeper Matt Reis could properly gather his feet and leveling the match.
"That's a determination goal," DeRosario said of his teammate. "He fell down, got back up, was kicking and kicking until it went in."
Kinnear considered retreating back into the 4-4-2 but Dynamo players urged him to resist the temptation, to keep pressing for the kill. They thought another goal would come -- but who would have guessed it would be off DeRosario's head?
He couldn't remember the last time he scored one off his noggin.
"If you see him in practice, he never does it," Kinnear said, laughing about DeRosario's lack of standing in the aerial prowess department. "He usually steps back and tries to sidewinder it."
Ngwenya actually had a big part in the second goal, too, although replays probably won't show it. He began varying his runs after intermission, finding the channels and asking for the ball in the corners instead of repeatedly and somewhat predictably checking back toward midfield for it. Around the 74th minute, Ngwenya dug one of those balls out of the corner, making Michael Parkhurst chase him and drawing the Revs' fine defender away from goal.
The ball circled back around before Brad Davis found a little space and dropped a good ball near the penalty spot. Heaps didn't think DeRosario could reach the cross but went up to challenge, mostly to provide enough bother in case DeRosario could reach it.
"He was able to get a quick jump on the ball," Heaps said. "I've seen some pretty good goals in some pretty big games, but that was a pretty good one."
It's not like he's got a history of chewing up the Revolution. In four matches over the last two years DeRosario has one goal, no assists and just five shots against New England.
And it's not like DeRosario has been doing it consistently all year. He started a little lethargically in 2007 before gaining momentum through the year. Still, by season's end, DeRosario had just six goals and four assists. That's not terrible over 24 matches, but it's hardly a benchmark season like 2006, when 11 goals and five assists made him an MVP finalist.
"When you accomplish what he has at his level, teams put two and three guys on him," Mullan said. "That makes it extremely difficult to do what he wants to do."
Eventually, of course, what he really wanted to do was win another MLS Cup title. Now he has four, which puts him in elite company. Jeff Agoos has five championship rings. Jamie Moreno is the only other MLS player with four. De Rosario, a man who always accommodates media requests but never is terribly effusive, turned most of the questions about his own contributions back toward the team.
"I can't speak anymore highly of my teammates," he said. "The dedication and determination. Just the will to never give up is unbelievable. I feel very blessed to be with this group of guys and this coaching staff."
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.