Ask Dwayne De Rosario what the differences are betweenplaying forward and moving back into central midfield, and United’s captain canwhittle his response down to a single word.
“Defense,” said the reigning league MVP after training onTuesday, undoubtedly oversimplifying a transition he has made look easy overthe last two weeks.
After United’s difficult start to the 2012 campaign, wherethe club’s attack sputtered during a pair of losses, coach Ben Olsen decided itwas time for a change. Having seenthe Black-and-Red lose out heavily on possession in both defeats, Olsen shiftedhis best player away from goal in hopes of owning more of the ball. Against Vancouver, De Rosario lined upatop United’s midfield and – low and behold – D.C. dominated the Whitecaps’midfield. Those results continuedagainst Dallas, where a deep-lying De Rosario sparked the counter-attack repeatedly in a 4-1 rout.As clever as Olsen’s decision has turned out to be thus far,the move didn’t come without some serious risk. After all, it was playing as a withdrawn forward where DeRosario churned out the goals that led to his MVP selection last fall.
“I’m very grateful for being MVP, but I want our team to besuccessful,” De Rosario explained. “If that means me not scoring as much that’s ok. It’s a good feeling when you get goalsand assists but it’s a better feeling when your team wins.”
And win they did. If there were concerns about how offensive-minded De Rosario wouldadjust to his magnified defensive responsibilities, D.C.’s defeat of Dallasprovided ample evidence to put them to rest. From the opening minute, DeRo engaged in a one-on-one battlewith Dallas midfielder Daniel Hernandez. In a showdown of true alpha males, De Rosario won with both skill andgrit. The Canadian ended the matchwith an assist, while a frustrated Hernandez earned no more than a 77thminute ejection.
“If he’s going to be in there he’s got to do both sides,”Olsen said of De Rosario’s spot in central midfield. “I told him that and he responded and I thought he had ahell of a game. I thought he did agood job defensively. He set areal physical tone and I thought the guys fed off that.”
While De Rosario’s defensive qualities have been a welcomesurprise, there’s another positive trend emerging from the captain’s move intomidfield. De Rosario has actuallybeen more dangerous since leaving D.C.’s forward line. Through the club’s first two matches,DeRo totaled just four shots. Inthe pair of contests since the shift, he’s tallied nine. The uptick in production signals thatdespite his changing role, De Rosario can still be dangerous.
“We’ve got a good thing going and I’m not going to try andchange too much,” added De Rosario. “If the opportunity does arrive where it does need me to take control ofthe game, I’ll do it. The goalswill come.”