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.


  1. Bring him to the Union at the right price. Manage his minutes, much like the technical staff have indicated they will do with Casey, and it’s a move the could pay immediate dividends.

  2. Don’t we already have a older slowly declining striker in Casey? Haven’t the Union learned their lesson on buying the aged, once upon a time goal scorer? We need to get someone in their prime who’s consistent and a mess for the other teams defense to handle.

    • If you are talking about our acquisition of Casey teaching us some kind of lesson I would say the lesson we learned is that it makes sense to gamble on an aging great player if they aren’t paid a huge amount.

  3. Meh, this is difficult for me to envision. The hardest part of dealing with a star player like this is when he starts to decline. That’s what NY has started to deal with in Henry starting to show his age and they are lucky that they have someone like Cahill who is making that transition easier for everyone involved.

    Just by sheer force of DeRo’s personality, he will inhibit other players from growing and taking larger roles. Bringing him in feels like a stop gap to me and that’s the last thing that the Union need in this off-season.

  4. I think he is definitely worth a look. We all saw last year that Casey can be effective when his minutes are managed. I could easily see him and DeRo platoon as that center striker in the so called 4-3-3.

  5. screw him. he will score 1 goal and start crying about money like he did in toronto.

  6. No. Too Old. Too much money. Limited resources spent elsewhere.

  7. Seems to me like bringing him in will give Hackworth the chance to wear him into the ground like he did with Casey or to wear a hole in the seat of his pants by sitting on the bench for long periods of time like he did with Kleberson.

  8. No. He danced like a mad man when Seitz pushed DeRo’s hospital (underhit) freekick into the net back in 2010. I have not forgiven him that act of buffoonery.

  9. OneManWolfpack says:

    Yeah I don’t know about this. He could be a bench guy but I can’t see him starting 30+ games this coming year. The Union aren’t a player away from a championship… not yet. If it’s cheap as hell and he’s still put there, sure, but he can’t be your plan A.

  10. John O'Donnell says:

    What about Zach Pfeffer, does he ever get a chance to play for us as a attacking mid? He’ll be 19 come January and looking at some of the young player in New England, I would love to see him get a chance. Besides I don’t think he would count against the cap.

  11. $125,000 max. There is no way he can play the CAM paired with BC in the middle – there will be a gaping hole in the team. He could have some utility as a second striker, and I agree could possibly surprise the way Casey did, but $250k is way too risky. $125k seems about right. Who else do you think would be in the market for him other than Toronto and Chivas?

    • Not sure. My guess is Los Angeles. They have a strong enough core of veterans that he probably wouldn’t upend the place, and it wouldn’t be an ego hit for him to go and be a contributor there as opposed to the star. Bruce Arena has proven he can manage veterans with big egos. But they need more of a target forward, so I don’t know. Also, maybe Houston, where he could play second striker off Bruin. He played for them for 8 years, and the big reason he left was to go home. They still love him there. He might even take a lower salary for each of these teams. Dallas could use a guy to play off Blas Perez, but I doubt they’d go for him.

      I don’t think it’ll be Philly, mind you, but when you have a weekly column and an interesting idea comes to mind that people will talk and think about, you write that column. ;)

      • Dan, enjoyed the article, will you and the contributers take a look at other CAM options like Ferreira as they become available? Since attacking mid seems to be union’s Holy Grail this offseason it’s interesting to look at their options.

        • Sure. Some Dallas watchers seem to think Ferreira is done. I’m curious as to what will happen with Daigo Kobayashi in Vancouver.

  12. Who really cares? Hackworth coming back, already stating that Brian Carroll will be the starter at CDM next year, and certainly MacMath will be starting in goal next year…. Union are going to be disappointing again for sure. How… as a manager… can you already exclaim that Brian Carroll is one of your main players for next year? You bench Kleberson and Torres because (they aren’t cutting it in training.) But Brian Carroll sucks, is old, and you’ve already tattooed him in our lineup for 4 months from now (without even knowing how he’ll perform in training)? Hackworth is crap.

  13. Um…what younger players would he inhibit? Weren’t those the same things said when we brought Paunovic in, that he’d siphon minutes from Farfan or Adu? We made the playoffs with that broken down bag of bones…

    Pro- He’s great if we play more of a 4-4-2 diamond, sitting behind Jack and Casey who were dropping way too far looking for service

    Con- We love saying 4-3-3!!! And what about a 4-3-3?!?!?

    Con- he’d retard the growth of younger up and comers
    Pro- who is that exactly? Marfan? Pfeffer? Pffft. We have the GREATEST YOUTH DEVELOPER OF YOUTH TALENT OF YOUNG PLAYERS. IN THE HISTORY OF YOUTH SOCCERBALL!!! We can overcome managing minutes, just swap out your 2013 subs for 2014 “In- Pfeffer, Out- DeRo. 60′. Plus, isn’t our problem we don’t have any one currently on the roster who can actually string together two freaking passes in the final third? That was us, right? No creativity, no real possession, no attack?

    So the real question is, “Does DeRo agree with the perception/reality that he has little left in the tank but to restart a toothless attack on a bottom table team? Or in other words, does 7th look that awesome to take a 65% pay cut?” Maybe. Worst case we can deal him to Brazil for cap relief.

  14. Great! Orlando City FC is talking about bringing in stars like Kaka and we’re discussing Brian Carroll, DeRo and Hackworth is still in the picture. Mediocre to lame Philadelphia Union.

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