DeRo to the Union?

Photo: Earl Gardner

So Philadelphia Union needs a No. 10.

And Dwayne De Rosario is available.

Is it a match made in Chester?

D.C. United is letting go of the two-time MLS MVP. De Rosario is 35 years old. 2013 was his worst season in a 13-year MLS career. And he probably isn’t the true No. 10 type Union manager John Hackworth is seeking.

But what if, like Conor Casey, he’s not washed up after all?

At the very least, De Rosario has to intrigue. Here’s why.

Individual vs. the supporting cast

MLS has seen few players like De Rosario. From 2005 through 2011, he made the MLS Best XI in all but one season. He probably would have made it in 2012 too had his season not been cut short by injury, as he put up 7 goals and 12 assists in 26 games. He has won four MLS Cups.

Tme may have caught up with De Rosario in 2013, however. His speed isn’t what it once was. His defensive range is lacking. He may function best as a second striker at this point, rather than an attacking midfielder who tracks back. He recorded just 3 goals and 2 assists in league play this season.

How much of that was on De Rosario, and how much was on the historically bad United team that surrounded him?

Consider the two midfielders expected to flank him in United’s 4-2-3-1.

  • Chris Pontius, the 2012 All-Star Game MVP, battled injuries all year. He scored just two goals in 22 games and rarely looked healthy.
  • Nick DeLeon, the 2012 Rookie of the Year runner-up, looked 20 pounds heavier in 2013. He scored just two goals.

The three seldom saw the field together in 2013.

The forwards on United’s roster on opening day combined for two goals in 2013. (His starting forward was Lionard Pajoy, people.) United didn’t have a legitimate MLS starting forward until Conor Doyle and Luis Silva arrived in mid-season.

Problems were just as bad elsewhere. Perry Kitchen was probably the only regular starter in the back six outfield spots who could have started on more than two or three other MLS teams (at least until Jared Jeffrey arrived). Andy Najar’s rampaging runs from right back were greatly missed. The back line was awful. The fullbacks offered little in attack.

Opposing defenses had one defensive focus in 2013: Close down De Rosario. Don’t give him the distance shots. Let him pass the ball or try to win the game himself, because he and everyone else know the guys around him can’t hit the net. And that’s what happened.

PSP contributors’ views

Here’s what some of PSP’s contributors said when I asked them whether the Union should consider acquiring De Rosario.

  • Eli Pearlman-Storch: “He will turn 36 during the next season and is a bit of a broken down bag of bones at the moment. I believe he would get in the way, both of younger players, and the team finding a true formation. He’s a bit of a tactical ghost, and the last thing the Union need is another guy who doesn’t quite play a position. I would definitely pass on him and invest that money elsewhere.”
  • Ed Farnsworth: “Maybe – maybe – it would have been a good idea in 2010, but not now. Too broken down, I doubt he would be able to start half of the games.”
  • Mike Servedio: “I’m not sure there are many people that would want him to come to Philly at this point in his career.”
  • Greg Orlandini: “If he was the last piece for a championship team, maybe. But no. He’s starting to get hurt a lot. This mythical playmaker they get should be in the 26-28 [age] range. A  player heading into his prime. Not a dude they can maybe get one quality year out of it they are lucky.”
  • Adam Cann: “I think he’s awful for a 4-3-3 system, but he’ll be a great Casey-style locker room player. But my bigger issue is that he has always been at his best playing in a system built to get him on the ball a lot, and he has never thrived when he has been asked to be a part of a system that generates opportunities for other players. He’s great at creating, but it’s usually because he gets to sit in ideal spaces and have people run off him. In a 4-3-3, where are those spaces? Where are those runners? The Union need the Pontius-type players that make late runs before they can invest in a guy that playmakes very high up the pitch and doesn’t create space for others so much as sit on the ball and do a good job finding people once they’re on the move. So I think it’s an interesting question that leads to the more interesting question of: Does John Hackworth have both the tactical know-how and forcefulness to bring a vet in and teach him a new system? Conor Casey made the system fit him, which is one reason you don’t see the type of soccer Hack thought he’d be playing by now. Will a DeRo do that? Or can Hack actually coach a vet? (I’m not sure he coached Le Toux, who just kept being Le Toux and doing what he wanted most of the time).”
About that USOC hat trick …

So if PSP’s contributors think it’s a bad idea, why explore it?

Few people saw that untelevised match on June 12, when De Rosario’s hat trick knocked the Union out of the U.S. Open Cup. People look at his regular season stats and forget he remains capable of that kind of dominant performance.

Maybe that’s why I’m not as sour on De Rosario. I watched that game. I saw him pull highlight reels out of his rear end. There are only a handful of MLS players who could do that.

One does not go from a 7-goal/12-assist season to being washed up in one year. Sure, DeRo has probably slipped a bit with age, but his 2013 performance likely owes at least as much (and probably more) to his surrounding cast than to him.

But there are several key questions:

  1. Can he still play as a CAM (as opposed to second striker)?
  2. Will he play within his limits?
  3. Will he take a pay cut?
  4. What kind of locker room presence will he provide?

DeRo would have to come in to play a defined role, not be a superstar. That could mean a cut to one-third of his 2013 salary, which was over $600,000. It means not agitating in the locker room and pressing for more money or playing time. It means looking in the mirror and deciding whether your last years in the league can be as memorable as the earlier ones, just in a different way.

The Union should consider DeRo

My view: The Union should consider De Rosario on a one-year deal with an option year at a salary under $250,000.

That doesn’t mean they should definitely acquire him. They should look first to find someone younger who can be part of the long-term rebuild.

But if DeRo is not at least on the radar, then that’s small-minded.

The Union have yet to show the ability to consistently find impact players overseas. Carlos Valdes and Faryd Mondragon were notable exceptions, but they were part of a group of players who were more strikeouts than home runs. Either way, that scouting network — Diego Gutierrez — is gone now.

Since Ricardo Ansaldi replaced Gutierrez in last November — not exactly a like-for-like replacement in terms of job duties, but still a replacement — Ansaldi has brought in three Brazilians. Two appear unlikely to return. The third, Fabinho, looks like a role player, and the Union are seeking another left back. Yes, the Union were financially limited this year, so they couldn’t make the big international signings they might have liked. This off-season will show whether Ansaldi can produce much for the Union.

Still, the Union may not find the playmaker they want in the international market. That means they’ll still have that gap and need for a No. 10. And Hackworth has made clear his preference for proven MLS players. Considering how well that worked with Case, Sebastien Le Toux and Jeff Parke, it’s hard to disagree.

The Union are not that far away from being a good team. They just need a few pieces, and they could add some this off-season. If he’s the final piece, DeRo might be the right one.


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