When somebody says the name Dwayne De Rosario, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Is it his championships? His goal-scoring ability or his vision in all phases of the attack? His undying competitive fire? The fact that he takes amazingly good care of himself? Or is all of that just subsumed into one image that is synonymous with "DeRo"?
In any event, all of those things have combined to give us one of Major League Soccer's all-time greats and a guy who has been The Man for D.C. United since arriving in the capital city in late June 2011. But the Canadian international will be 35 by this summer, and so even despite the care he's taken for himself and everything else, we have to ask how much longer DeRo will be able to be The Man. Just as importantly, how long will United need him to be The Man?
Last season, DeRo started off a little bit slow on the goal-scoring front, needing several days to record his first tally. But he made up for it by setting up his teammates, leading the team in assists. Throughout the season, in scoring 7 goals and dishing 12 assists, DeRo certainly held the mantle of The Man for another year. When he went down to an MCL sprain on September 11, his value to the team was immediately apparent. The goals dried up for the Black-and-Red, and Ben Olsen's side shifted further into a more defensive posture that they had already begun adopting just before De Rosario's injury.
By all accounts, DeRo is back and 100% for 2013, and his spot in the First XI may as well be written in permanent marker. What remains to be seen, though, is how well is nearly 35-year-old frame will hold up to another MLS season and how United will adapt when he inevitably misses games, whether due to injury or to leading his national team at the Gold Cup this summer.
Last year, with DeRo missing, Chris Pontius took over the captain's armband and took over more dirty work, sacrificing his own attacking preferences for the good of the team. Nick DeLeon stepped up at the end of his rookie year, scoring some big-time goals. But for United to take the next step, do they need somebody who can step in for DeRo without missing a step? Or will they just have to change things all over the field - hopefully not on the scale that they did at the end of last year - to make up for his absence?
If we're very lucky this season, we won't have to find the answers to these questions with any kind of regularity, and DeRo will lead United not only through the regular season and back to the playoffs, but right through to an MLS Cup Final in RFK Stadium. If we're less lucky, than we'll at least know who we can turn to with DeRo out of the lineup over a stretch.
Let us hear what you think in the comments. How many elite-type years does DDR have left in him? How can the Black-and-Red cope when he's out of the lineup?