DWAYNE'S NEW WORLD: ARENA SOCCER
You name it and Dwayne DeRosario seemingly has accomplished it for club and country.
In an illustrious outdoor career that spanned 18 years, DeRosario was the game MVP for two MLS Cup championship sides, made 81 appearances for Canada and scored a record 22 goals for the Maple Leafs. And oh yes, before we forget, he was a member of the Canadian squad that captured the 2000 Concacaf Gold Cup and was Canadian male player of the year four times.
Now, at the ripe young age of 40, DeRosario has come out of retirement and trying his hand, or rather his feet, in arena soccer as an attacker for the Mississauga MetroStars in the Major Arena Soccer League.
"The experience that he has professionally through his career is second to none," MetroStars head coach Phil Ionadi said Wednesday. "So, bring that into the team, make sure the level of competition and professionalism is high on and off the field. That will be an attribute to us. We're excited to have that. He's a very important piece in the structure of a successful season."
DeRosario? He is relishing the challenge of being the talisman of an expansion team while expanding the reach of arena soccer in the Toronto area and Canada.
While growing up in Scarborough in suburban Toronto, DeRosario played indoors during the winter. After outdoor seasons, he would visit his parents and train a few times a week and play in some pick-up games.
"I've always loved the game, all aspects of the game, whether its beach soccer, whether its futsal, whether its the arena game," said DeRosario, whose relationship with Ionadi goes back two decades to his days with the Toronto Lynx in the Canadian National Soccer League.
In fact, Ionadi had DeRosario play for Canada in indoor international friendlies against the United States and Brazil earlier this year.
"I took that opportunity and enjoyed myself," DeRosario said, adding that he told his friend that he was "interested in the challenge. I've watched the league online. It seems exciting. It feels fun when I played. It's a new challenge for me. So, I'm looking forward to how it works out."
How much fun did DeRosario have?
Well, while testing the arena waters he did score the game-winning goal in a 5-4 thriller over the United States on May 6.
"I think that sparked interest for sure, with the Canadian game," he said. "That definitely had a major [factor] to make my decision to come play. And what Phil stands for. We've done a lot of stuff together, whether it's taking teams to the A-League or to create opportunities. He asked me, 'We could use your help,' so it wasn't really hard to make a decision. See how my body holds up. So far, so good. As the season gets going it will be interesting."
DeRosario said that "it's always a great reward and gratifying opportunity to represent your country."
He also played in a friendly against Brazil as well.
"It's not often you get to play the likes of a team like Brazil at any level and to play the U.S. and to have two, three good games at home," he said. "It was great. It just showed the potential here. It was an opportunity to create jobs for guys who maybe hadn't made it in the outdoor game, to play the game they love and to make a living playing football.
"It's exciting times with 2026 on the horizon and the game's growing in multiple ways," added DeRosario, an ambassador with the United Bid Committee that will stage the 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. "We're just doing our part to continue to grow the game and try to do what we can to service kids within our communities who love this game and are passionate about the sport and create opportunities for them."
While all his accomplishments are quite impressive, DeRosario faces some intriguing challenges. He last played competitively for Toronto FC in 2014. He also is no spring chicken.
"I don't feel like one right now," he said.
The former Canadian international insisted he was up for the task. Remember, arena soccer is different than the outdoor version because players take one- or two-minute shifts as opposed to being out on a field for 90 minutes or more.
"Actually, that's what I like is that I could take breaks when I need it," he said with a laugh. "You put in a good shift, you come off, get some rest and put in another good shift. So in that part it's good. It's exciting. The game is a fun game. It's football at the end of the day. It's the game that I love passionately. I want to see if we can potentially bring a trophy to Toronto, another trophy. It would be amazing to be a part of that. It's already amazing of being a part of something special, the inaugural season for a Canadian team in the MASL. With the look at the growth and the opportunities ahead, I can only see the game [becoming] bigger and bigger."
A 40-year-old midfielder or forward is a rarity in the arena game, but DeRosario said he has taken care of his body through the years.
"I put in the hard work and make sure my body is ready and do the necessary work off the field to ensure I'm playing at full potential," he said. "Obviously there are days that are a lot of more difficult than others. It's a little more challenging. I try to do my best to try to step atop the curve and to take care of my body."
Ionadi saw DeRosario as an upside in so many ways -- on and off the field.
"It's not every day you play with someone who is your hero, someone who you have watched growing up playing, knowing the history of what he has accomplished," he said. "That's why he has that kind of leadership is so important for our franchise. The players are excited. Dwayne wants to be as successful as he can be and it's rubbing off.
"When you're a professional, you do everything right. You have to. That's what makes you a professional. He's always three steps ahead of everybody. He reads the game before people are doing things. He's there. So that's going to help him where he may not be not able to [be as fast as some players] in their 20s. His brain and experience bring him to a level where he will be successful and help the team be successful. I'm really excited to see him on set plays. He'll bring a whole aspect to our team."
Having a superstar like DeRosario certainly will help the league in many ways, especially when attracting fans.
"It gives us a lot of credibility," MASL commissioner Joshua Schaub said. "Clearly, it's a star who has played in the outdoor game for a long time. It’s probably the premier name in Canada in terms of soccer, seeing our sport of something very relevant and credible."
Added MetroStars president Peter Kovacs: "He wants to give back to the sport a bit. He wants to be someone to help our Canadian youth. He loves the project. "He's ambassador [with Toronto FC]. I don’t' care whatever he also is employed. He wants to stay in the game."
And that certainly was not lost on DeRosario on the impact he could make in Ontario and around the rest of the league.
"Definitely, definitely, definitely," he said. "I still get a lot of love in the cities that i played for across MLS. I had a fantastic time playing in MLS and I gained a lot of support throughout the league from fans from all over the U.S. I'm definitely encouraging them to come out and show their support, get familiar with the game and hopefully I can put on a good show for them."
DeRosario's stops in MLS included the San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC, New York Red Bulls and D.C. United. He also played two seasons for the Richmond Kickers in what is now the United Soccer League.
As it turns out, the MetroStars and DeRosario will open the season at the three-time defending champion Baltimore Blast on Saturday, Dec. 1 and he expected some D.C. United fans to show up to cheer him on.
"So, it's nice to see that the level of support is still there for me," he said. "Just looking forward to helping this game grow and do what I can to help not only MASL grow this game, but also the MetroStars to be a successful brand in our first year."
His responsibilities aren't just taking turns running on and off the bench. Some of it is also behind the bench, as he will be Ionadi's assistant coach.
"Actually, I've been enjoying that quite a bit," he said. "I mean, there are a lot ot intricacies in this game. There are different rules that I am learning as time goes by' just so really understanding the different rules. It's more of the tactics that this game provides. It's a great game."
DeRosario hasn't set a timetable as to how long he will play or when he will hang up his indoor boots.
"It’s a game basis," he said with a laugh.
Then he became serious.
"No, no. Listen, I'm going to see how this year goes and take it one step at a time," he added. "The main thing is that I want to do my teammates and organization justice. I've got to be able to compete and stay healthy. That's the most important thing. I'm not going to put a time on it in how many years. I'm just going to enjoy it every day, coming out and train and enjoy every time I come out there and suit up for games. And I'll see how I feel from there."