I have a 4 year old nephew, Henry, his parents are Toronto FC season tickets holders, and they take him to games now and then, he's got TFC kits and all that sort of thing. He's a bit young to really get what's happening, and certainly too young to get the nuances of "it's the badge on the front of the shirt, not the name on the back", and for him, very unprompted by his parents, TFC was about one thing, De Ro!
TFC's 2010 90th minute party was just before Henry's birthday so my wife and I took a birthday card along for De Rosario to sign. He wrote a short message and signed the card, and Henry loved it. On Friday, when told that De Ro was gone, he started crying.
That's the way it should have been. Supporters should have loved him, little kids should have worshipped him, playground fights should have happened over who got to be De Ro when playing soccer at recess. Dwayne De Rosario, one of the best most successful players in MLS history, coming back to Toronto, to play for and finish his career with his hometown team, and help them become a successful team, how could that go wrong? I'll get into the gory details after the jump, and tomorrow, I'll look at where TFC goes from here.
Of course it did go wrong, and by the time it ended, neither party came out of it looking good. Without the exact details, the story's been told many times, and unsurprisingly it's Mo Johnston who's the main villain of the piece. Apparently De Rosario was promised designated player status by Johnston, and thus requested a trade away from Houston, which eventually happened, and then that DP offer disappeared.
That initial broken promise got things off to a bad start and it never really got better, especially when Julian De Guzman and then Mista were brought in on higher wages. Aside from a few grumbles, De Rosario generally kept his issues private, and no-one could doubt his committment on the field, you may or may not like his style of play, but in his own way, he was always obviously trying.
After Mo Johnston was fired in September 2010 though, De Rosario obviously saw the chance to push his agenda, and did so quite publicly. There was the infamous cheque signing gesture and unrepentant post game media comments about deserving a raise. His discontent simmered throughout the rest of the season and off season while TFC was searching for a new GM, culminating in the pr fiasco that was his training/trialling with Scottish club Celtic.
After Aron Winter and Paul Mariner came on board, they talked of winning cultures, and how much De Rosario was part of their plans. De Rosario? Well, he talked about still wanting a raise and potentially refusing to play until he got it. That raise never came, De Rosario did keep playing, but the relationship was obviously strained beyond repair, and eventually the trade had to happen. De Rosario took parting shots in the media, telling Gareth Wheeler that he never demanded a trade as well as giving an impression of a shambolically run club. Aron Winter came back and said that yes, De Rosario did demand a trade.
Despite his status as MLS superstar and one of the most exciting Canadian players out there in the last decade or so, and despite all the goals he scored for Toronto, De Rosario became a polarising player among supporters, especially when he took his frustrations public towards the end of his TFC career, and at the end, supporters let him leave with a whimper. The game against Chivas, within 24 hours of the trade, saw no protests, no banners, no songs for De Ro. He should have retired a Red, leaving the field after a teary lap of honour to a standing ovation, instead we got this.
I wrote this when the Celtic fiasco happened.
If it's sad, it's also unsurprising, even when at a successful and well run club at San Jose/Houston De Ro still caused his share of dramas with public complaints about his pay. He obviously has an ego and pride to match his unquestioned talent and goalscoring ability, and doesn't seem the type to tolerate what he sees as disrespect. TFC, well, whether intentionally or not, and I genuinely believe most of the time it's not intentional, disrespecting people seems to be what they do best, causing frustration to even the most professional of players. The list of players and coaches who have left the club under a cloud, some publicly complaining, others not, is a long one. Those tendencies, thrown together with De Ro's character into the power vacuum that currently exists was in retrospect always a recipe for disaster.
I'd hoped the new managment would have been able to resolve the issue, but without knowing exactly what they offered to him, it seems De Rosario had no compromise in him, and so the trade became necessary.
The proverb goes "It's always darkest before the dawn" Hopefully this is the last of the dysfunction, the end of the hangover from the Mo Johnston era, and the dawn will bring that promised winning culture.