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Canadian soccer icon Dwayne De Rosario opens up in new autobiography 'DeRo: My Life'

Dwayne De Rosario's soccer credentials are well-established.

Dwayne De Rosario's soccer credentials are well-established.

Named one of Major League Soccer's 25 greatest players, MLS MVP (2011) and two-time MLS Cup MVP (2001 and 2007), the Canadian attacker scored 104 league goals in an MLS career that stretched from 2001 to 2014. Internationally, he earned 81 caps for Canada and tops the list of Canadian men's goal-scorers with 22.

De Rosario's attempts to play in Europe and his salary-related frustration in his first go-round at Toronto FC have also been well-documented.

But there's plenty more to De Rosario's story and the 42-year-old from Scarborough, Ont., (he turns 43 on May 15) delivers in his autobiography "DeRo: My Life," written with Brendan Dunlop.

"It's a lot of things that I haven't really opened up to (before)," De Rosario acknowledged in an interview.

It's an enjoyable, easy read. And you will know and understand De Rosario much better for it. 

From being shot in the eye during a somewhat wild youth (it wasn't a real bullet but it caused a torn retina that still affects him) to his difficulties adjusting to life after soccer, De Rosario does plenty of dishing.

Toronto FC and Canada Soccer will not like some passages of the book. De Rosario does not spare either, although he makes it clear that both have come a long way in recent years and are worlds ahead of where they were.

"There's something special happening right now," he writes of the current Canadian men's team. "There's a hope and a belief among the national team that wasn't always there. (Coach) John Herdman deserves a lot of credit for that."

It's a far cry from having to return Canadian jerseys at a national camp "because we're giving them to the youth team." Or the Sony gift card De Rosario got from Canada Soccer for his second Canadian Player of the Year award in 2006.

He sees Canada co-hosting the 2026 World Cup as a "unique opportunity."

"I hope that we get it right,'" he said. "There are still things that need to be heavily focused on."

As for TFC, De Rosario says the club — in his first stint there — didn't deliver on a promise to make him a designated player and screwed him out of a chance to play for Scotland's Celtic on loan.

"Bottom line: treat your stars like they're stars. The people in charge at the time didn't do that, and I had to say goodbye to Toronto," he writes.

Looking back, he says "it was a learning curve for both parties, myself and for TFC as well, at that time."  

De Rosario was eventually traded to first the New York Red Bulls and then D.C. United during the 2011 season, a nomadic campaign that amazingly did not stop him from winning MVP honours. Off the field, he details in the book the toll that that string of moves took on his family.

"I think that (2011 season) just encompasses my life in a nutshell," he said in the interview. "Just how I was able to use those obstacles, to use those adversities, to fuel my passion and my hunger on the field.

"Because at any time I could have said 'Forget this.' Or I could have given up or went to the team with a bag of emotions. But I knew that wasn't going to serve me (well) so I wanted to go there and prove (to) everyone 'You know what? This is what you're losing.'"

De Rosario finished out his career in Toronto, painting a vastly different picture of the franchise in 2014 under then-MLSE boss Tim Leiweke.

"The only things that were the same when I went back to TFC were the crest on the shirt and the fans in the stands," De Rosario writes. 'It wasn't the same organization that traded me away. They were different from top to bottom. It was like moving back into your old house after somebody else fully renovated it.

"All the little things mattered, and all the big things were done big."

TFC is now "up there with the best clubs in the world," he added in the interview.

De Rosario retired as Toronto's career leader in goals, assists, shots, shots on goal, game-winning goals and multi-goal games. He remains a club ambassador.

In the book, he also details the many steps he took on the soccer ladder before finding a home in MLS — he had tryouts at England's Portsmouth, Hungary's MTK Budapest, Italy's AC Milan and Spain's Barcelona, to name a few.

The deals or teams weren't right and he ended up with fellow Canadian Jason Bent — now an assistant coach at Toronto FC — at Germany's FSV Zwickau in a nightmarish European experience that saw both players racially abused.

He believes the adversity he faced throughout his career helped shape the man and player he became.

"I have no regrets," he said in the interview. "Maybe if certain things, if they had gone different, it would have been interesting to see. I realized in life there are no guarantees and you have to continue to find ways to make it happen, regardless of things you sometimes can't control." 

Today, he focuses on his DeRo Foundation, which among other things, helps inner city kids with after-school programs. He also runs his own soccer school, the DeRo United Futbol Academy. He believes he has more to give to his sport. 

And he is a proud father of four.

One son, 19-year-old Osaze, is a forward who has spent time with both the Toronto FC academy and the New York City FC system and is currently trying out for a team in Spain. Another, 16-year-old Adisa, is a goalkeeper in the TFC academy.

He also has a 22-year-old daughter, Asha, and nine-year-old son, Tinashe.

De Rosario says the process of writing the book, which started in 2016, was an "emotional roller-coaster."

"I realized I was holding onto a lot of stuff," he said. "It was therapeutic too. It was also refreshing to tell my story. Brendan made it easy."

"DeRo: My Life," by Dwayne De Rosario with Brendan Dunlop, ECW Press, 208 pages, $34.95 


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press