Amid all the woe and gnashing of teeth within Toronto’s professional sports establishment this winter—the Maple Leafs’ continued struggle to reach .500, the Raptors’ inability to play consistently under interim head coach Jay Triano, the less-than-encouraging off-season changes with the Blue Jays’ roster—there was some actual good news last week, although news that didn’t exactly inspire sports editors to include a front-page spread.
That news is the long-delayed official announcement this past Thursday that Dwayne De Rosario, four-time Major League Soccer Cup winner, two-time winner of the MLS Cup MVP, regular starter for the senior men’s Canadian national team, and Scarborough native, will be joining Toronto FC this season, kicking off March 21, after leaving MLS club Houston Dynamo.
In a familiar pattern, De Rosario’s signing has enervated Toronto’s soccer-blogging community while generating only lukewarm coverage in the city’s mainstream sports rags. That’s been the norm ever since Toronto FC’s first season in 2007, when the city’s mainstream television and print news seemed only interested in the spectacle of crowds at BMO Field, blithely assuming they’d been drawn from Toronto’s European enclaves. Meanwhile local fans of the game, many with a lifelong interest in the sport, have stepped in to fill in the gap by providing their own on-line press coverage, analysis, transfer rumours and player interviews in the form of blogs and fan forums like the Voyageurs.
The general lack of traditional sports coverage—there are one or two notable exceptions, including the Star‘s Cathal Kelley—hasn’t been helped by Toronto FC’s poor on-field performance the past two years or MLS’ increasingly minor stature in world soccer. Attendances at most games in the United States hover in the mere thousands, and the league is at significant risk of losing one-man marketing machine David Beckham, currently on loan from the LA Galaxy to Italian soccer giants AC Milan. All of this means that, even while Toronto FC still draws raucous sell-out crowds, they’re still looked on as a niche-driven sideshow to the Jays, Raptors, and Leafs.
News that a truly great Canadian soccer player coming home to play for Canada’s highest-level professional club might help to change all that. De Rosario is a unique player, perfectly at home in the workmanlike MLS (spells at English clubs Nottingham Forest and Blackburn went nowhere) yet among the league’s few genuine stars. At thirty years old, he still has a few seasons ahead of him, and he’s already said he wishes to end his career with TFC.
If all goes well (and “ifs” tend to be big in soccer), De Rosario could help provide the skill and leadership to bring Toronto FC on-field success while reinforcing the team’s role as Canada’s pre-eminent soccer club. The story of an all-Canadian sporting success in the world’s most popular game might be too good for major media outlets to pass up. And De Ro, as he’s known by his fans, might be just the player to bear the weight of Canadian soccer fans’ expectations and help the beautiful game become a celebrated part of Toronto’s, and Canada’s, sporting mainstream.