Welcome to Partially Obstructed View. We are each restrained by the limits of our own perspective, but when we meet to share information a clearer picture of the truth can be revealed. Comments & criticisms are welcome.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

First Person View – Dwayne De Rosario for MVP

    There has been much debate – both domestically and in the wider reaches of the league – as to the merits of De Rosario’s campaign for Most Valuable Player. His capture of the golden boot – as top scorer - despite a season stricken with living out of suitcases and forgetting teammate’s names, is truly a laudable achievement, but should it earn him the prestigious award?

    Not going to bother reciting his stats here, chances are if you’re reading this you’re familiar with the kind of season he had.

    For consistency and perspective’s sake, I did some painstaking research regarding past winners of the award, only to discover some peculiarities.

    In the modern era – the last seven winners dating back to 2004; 2003 was won by Preki with Ante Razov and John Spencer as runners-up, so, not so modern – all but two players won the award in their first three seasons in the league - three in their second (Ferreira, Schelotto, and Guevara), one in their first (Emílio), one in their third (Gómez) as compared to Twellman in his fourth and Donovan in his ninth.

    Three of the last seven have also won the golden boot in the season they won MVP - Guevara, Twellman, and Emílio; though no golden boot winner has won in the past three seasons.

    Two of the last three winners – Ferreira and Schelotto - have provided more assists than goals.

    No winner’s club has not made the playoffs, but several have done poorly in them.

    Only one winner – Schelotto – has gone on to win the cup, though three others have lost cup finals.

    Some conclusions can be drawn from this selection of trends.

    New players tend to be recognized over regular standouts, while winning the golden boot used to be more important, but is less so now – perhaps speaking to a better understanding of the important role of the playmaker, and playoffs are essential.

    One curious case that came up was Donovan winning in 2009. He beat out fellow finalists Shalrie Joseph and golden boot winner Jeff Cunningham. Donovan did not have a particularly impressive season – scoring 12 and assisting on 6; compare with Cunningham’s 17 and 8 – though he did lead his team to a cup final defeat.

    He did have a spectacular season the year before racking up 20 goals and 9 assists, but Los Angeles failed to make the playoffs, leaving him to lose out on the award to Schelotto.

    It also came in Donovan’s ninth season in the league, lending the impression that perhaps his selection was not necessarily for that particular season, but for his contributions over the length of his career.

    Interestingly there were no standout statistical candidates that season; Conor Casey came in second in the scoring race – 16 goals and 1 assist – but the rest of the field hovered around the 11-12 goals scored mark – five with 12, three with 11. The fellow finalists were both also long-time servants to the league - Joseph and Cunningham – but Cunningham, as with Casey, did not make the playoffs, while Joseph only contributed 1 goal and 1 assist, though in fairness his game is not about offensive statistics.

    With all that in mind, back to De Rosario.

    I had the pleasure of taking part in a CSA conference call with the man himself a while back. True, these things are of limited value, but as a collector of information I’m rather enthusiastic about the whole thing, hell I was even welcome to ask a question or two should the mood strike me.

    The general tone of the conversation was very pleasant; De Rosario spoke of being pleased with the golden boot and consideration for league MVP, he made mention of how he could not have achieved so much without his teammates, and other such niceties, including how he hoped his success would prove inspirational for young players in Canada. Most of what was covered – as well as the audio itself – has been discussed at length and is available elsewhere in the blogosphere.

    When it came time for me to ask my question, I proceeded rather nervously – as is my way. I intended to ask if playing with such a young group of players in DC was a contributing factor to his ability to be a leader on the pitch, but inevitably I ended up improvising a ramble at the end, throwing in something like “in a way you weren’t able to be in Toronto and New York”.

    What I meant of course was that his time in Toronto this season was so short and clearly the club was undergoing a massive renovation – one which he would most likely not be a part of – and while in New York he was somewhat limited, both by actual time there and by having massive characters such as Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez restricting his space both in front and behind.

    My other questions - had I managed to blurt them out – were, whether playing with Henry stifled his game at all as they both like to operate out of similar spaces on the pitch – what with De Rosario surging forward from the midfield or playing in the hole, while Henry likes to drop back and collect the ball and face the defenders head on with space, and whether the enforced moves contributed to his motivation to prove his worth with such a dynamic attacking season.

    But back to my initial question, De Rosario seemed to pounce on the latter rambling part of my question much to my chagrin, though in truth it did elicit a lively response on how he always tried to be a leader wherever he went – a quality that has stood him in good stead throughout his career; on how he worked hard, tried to create and be the best he could be; on how the small stuff just seemed to click with DC. He acknowledged that every player needs a good supporting cast to succeed, but that he was able to take the game into his own hands on a number of occasions, putting his head down to steer the team towards victories. He lamented their inability to make the playoffs in the end, but emphasized that the youth at DC were learning and improving all the time, and that they would continue to build towards the playoffs, but needed to learn how to see matches out and win 1-0 if necessary.

    DC was an incredibly young and inexperienced team this season, specifically in the backline – Kitchen, White, Korb and Woolard – but also in attack –Najar, Brettschneider, Pontius, King and da Luz; even Davies is still a young professional – and even more so in goal – Hamid and Willis. Many forget how terrible of a season they had the year before, the devastating injuries that plagued their season – Bošković, Jaković, and the late-season broken leg that finished Pontius’ season just as he was finding some excellent form, as well as regular short-term absences by Davies, Wolff, Quaranta, Burch, and so on, and so forth - and that Ben Olsen, despite legendary status with the home fans and a short caretaker stint at the end of 2010, was a first year coach.

    Interestingly, I heard another interview with De Rosario a couple of days later – actually from a couple weeks earlier but I was behind on my podcasts - with long-time associate Glenn Davis from Houston – great show by the way - where he was asked basically the same question, minus the unprofessional ramble by yours truly, and expanded even further along the same point.

    He spoke of joining a youthful, inexperienced team with a coaching staff that has played the game – directly mentioning fellow Canadian Pat Onstad’s role; he even went so far as to say:
“My goal coming to DC just kind of being the, umm… I guess you could say leader and just motivate the guys and just encourage them to continue what they’re doing, and help lift their game up that much more. You know, obviously seeing some of the games there’s just a little bit of inexperience…”   
                   ~ 25 minutes in the October 4th edition of Soccer Matters.

    You may wonder what it is that I’m trying to get at with this little diatribe, other than clearing my conscience of a minor flub.

    Well, the chance to listen to De Rosario speak, specifically the difference in – not tone or attitude – but spirit between the two conversations: the second a relaxed chat with an old friend versus the first random questions from a selection of Canadian media types and assembled fan-boy bloggers – such as myself – who one could easily – and rightly – assume had some affection for Toronto FC, with whom he had had a not so amicable goodbye. I felt taking both views combined offered a more accurate glimpse at the man; an intriguing individual to say the least, descriptions of his training regiments and musical tastes were both enlightening and enviable, and as a hoarder of data I wished there was more to glean. Often times the soccer public often forgets that these are people as well as players or coaches, and to overlook that fact diminishes their accomplishments.

    One day there will be a tell-all biography of De Rosario, and I imagine, if done properly, it would be a fascinating read.

    Back to the MVP discussion.

    Many of these pieces regarding his suitability for MVP have queried whether De Rosario’s apparent selfish play was becoming of a valuable player, something he most definitely has proven himself. As much as we all like to pretend there is no ‘I’ in team, there is in ‘win’, as well as in ‘scoring title’, ‘champion’ and ‘Canadian’. 

    Some detractors would argue that no player who has been traded twice - and fielded for three separate clubs - should be considered, as he was clearly not wanted where he was. But does that not speak to the level of his desirability and to an ability to impress his skills onto any side, regardless of comfort – both with teammates and of situation.

    Should his achievement, in light of the moves, not indicate how dominant of a player he truly is? By how he could take his game anywhere and still positively affect the outcome of a match?

    The other much more serious knock against his candidacy is how could a player whose team did not make it to the postseason be considered for such an award? This, as discussed in the opening, does seem to be a prerequisite.

    Granted the point of the season is to win the trophy at the end, but in all professional sports there will be times when a club is not in a position to succeed - the dreaded rebuilding phase.

    Honestly, should players who have exceptional campaigns be disincluded due to the situation they find themselves in?

    DC was the worst team in the league last season tallying a measly 22 points; one of the worst non-expansion side point-hauls in recent years. Surely for this club to even have a slight chance at the playoffs was just another measure of how De Rosario’s experience helped push a youthful side to the brink of the postseason. Had Pontius not suffered that broken bone after having a three assist match in Chivas, things could well have turned out very differently for the side.

    Should De Rosario’s exploits not be recognized because two other players dove in foolishly for a ball thus decreasing his chances of crossing some arbitrary line?

    As the league has gotten bigger the percentage of teams that make the playoffs has shrunk – in 2004 eight of twelve (66%); in 2010 ten of eighteen (55.5%) – and will continue to do so – next season (52.6%) and assuming a similar system – down to half of the teams, upon the selection of the fabled twentieth club.

    Should players be overlooked based on position in the table and decisions be made, not on merit, but on standings? I reiterate, it is an arbitrary measure based not on the strength or expectations of an individual club, but on the structure of the league. I hesitate to call the awarders placists, but that appears to be the argument being made.

    In a season where there was no other standout candidate, does it not behoove the league to take the opportunity to honour a player who has made a career of answering the call when his team needs him most?

    One who has been the face of the league, one whom has provided some of its finest moments, one with a career-long list of accomplishment and contributions to MLS – much as has Landon Donovan. Is De Rosario the Canadian Landon? That may be a stretch.

    There is some evidence that the recognition of the best – or most valuable – player in the league has been changing, beginning in the naïve state of handing the award over to whoever tallied the most points, moving on to the player who was most essential to his team’s attack – the playmaker. Wouldn’t the natural evolution beyond this limited scope begin to take into account that the playoffs are not always the measure of a club’s success?

    To be honest no defender or goalkeeper is ever going to win the award, which is why they have their own category for recognition. De Rosario best sums both the goal-scorer and the playmaker, while also being a driving force on his team and contributing wherever he may play.

    But should my words not be sufficient, I’ll leave you with those of a man whose opinion and knowledge of the game should carry much more weight than mine ever will.

    In an interview this week, Thierry Henry referred to De Rosario in the follow paragraph:
“… look at Dwayne De Rosario. He scored, what, 16 goals, 12 assists? I mean when you see him on the ball, that’s creativity. Sometimes he doesn’t always succeed in what he does, but you want to see someone that goes and tries to create stuff. Dwayne De Rosario for me should be the face of this league in terms of he’s been playing here for a very long time. I think he has the most championships, the teams he plays on succeed every time.”
    High praise indeed.

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