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Dwayne De Rosario Is Not MLS's Most Valuable Player

Dwayne De Rosario celebrates a goal in a crucial game his team lost. This is a metaphor.
Dwayne De Rosario celebrates a goal in a crucial game his team lost. This is a metaphor.

Dwayne De Rosario is, without question, one of the best players in the history of Major League Soccer. Though he's never been MVP or won scoring title before this season, he was two-time MLS Cup MVP and has made six appearances on the MLS Best Eleven. Consistently among the best players in MLS but never quite at the top.

This changed in 2011. Splitting his time between Toronto FC, the New York Red Bulls, and DC United, De Rosario tied with Chris Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes for the MLS Golden Boot while adding 12 assists, fourth in the league. At the age of 33, De Rosario was among the league's most terrifying and most consistent players. Small wonder he's a favourite for the MLS Most Valuable Player award, to be handed out Friday.

De Rosario, however, has always had his haters. He's been accused of self-absorption, of playing selfishly, of posting gaudy stats while making his teams worse. He left his hometown club under a massive dark cloud and was unable to stick with the Red Bulls. In his early days with San Jose and the Houston Dynamo De Rosario could be a consummate professional, but over the past few years he's looked like more and more of a distraction.

This season, those attacking De Rosario's MVP candidacy are pointing to his lacklustre defense, his teams' lack of success, and the fact that he was traded twice in one season. It's unusual for two teams in one year to decide they don't want any sport's most valuable player!

When you think of a Most Valuable Player, you think of the lynchpin of a team; the player without whom the entire system collapses. Dwayne De Rosario was not the key ingredient to his teams' success. In fact, as I will demonstrate after the jump, acquiring Dwayne De Rosario actually made teams worse.

The following table summarizes the results of the three teams which employed Dwayne De Rosario in the 2011 Major League Soccer season, dividing them into results when De Rosario was on the roster and results when he was not.

2011 Major League Soccer Results With and Without Dwayne De Rosario
Toronto FC With DeRo 2 1 0 1 3 1.50
Without DeRo 32 5 15 12 30 0.94
New York Red Bulls With DeRo 15 4 8 3 20 1.33
Without DeRo 19 6 8 5 23 1.37
DC United With DeRo 19 5 6 8 21 1.11
Without DeRo 15 4 6 5 18 1.20

With De Rosario in the lineup at the start of the season Toronto lost, away, to the Vancouver Whitecaps in their MLS debut but convincingly beat fellow expansion side Portland Timbers at home. This gave Toronto FC three points in two games; a perfectly respectable 1.5 points per game. When they traded De Rosario they fell to 0.94 points per game for the rest of the season and spent the year loitering around the league basement.

However, two games is far too small a sample to judge a player's contribution. Toronto played those two games against the worst team in Major League Soccer (Vancouver) and a poor side that was hapless on the road and didn't get their first win away until July (Portland). When Toronto traded De Rosario to New York for Tony Tchani, Danleigh Borman, and a draft pick it probably made the team worse... but two games is simply too few to tell.

The New York Red Bulls acquired De Rosario on April 1 and he was in action on April 2. Prior to acquiring De Rosario the team had one win and one draw and, with a star-studded lineup, were viewed as MLS Cup contenders. However, with De Rosario in the lineup the team slumped into mid-table mediocrity. A record of four wins, eight draws, and three losses indicated that, for all their firepower, the Red Bulls were having trouble putting teams away.

It turned out that, with or without DeRo, New York simply wasn't a very good team, but they recognized that this wasn't their year and saw a chance to spin off a short-term asset for a long-term one. So off De Rosario went, traded to DC United in exchange for holding midfielder Dax McCarty. They swapped De Rosario's sixteen goals for McCarty's zero and wound up getting the better of the bargain, playing 0.04 points per game better without De Rosario on the roster. That's less than the difference between a win and a draw, but if Dax McCarty is a slight upgrade on you then you're not the most valuable player.

De Rosario finished the 2011 season with DC United where he scored in bunches. When De Rosario arrived DC United had 4 wins, 6 draws, and 5 losses and were in the mixer for a playoff berth. And as soon as they added the putative MVP on June 28 DC went on a tear, winning four of their first ten games with De Rosario while losing only two.

With De Rosario being renowned as a clutch competitor who's willing to play good team soccer when the game is on the line, a playoff berth should have been a cinch. However, DC collapsed down the stretch: losing five of their last six to lesser teams that included Vancouver and Portland (that loss being one of Portland's only two road wins). Of course De Rosario spent time on international duty in that stretch but he was still a key cog in their lineup.

Take October 15: De Rosario converted a 90th-minute penalty against the Chicago Fire to give DC a 1-0 lead at home and seemingly three vital points. However, Sebastian Grazzini and Diego Chaves both scored for Chicago in stoppage time, with DeRo still on the pitch, to give the Fire a 2-1 win and all-but-kill DC's playoff hopes.

How very valuable! DC United with De Rosario was .09 points per game worse than DC United without De Rosario even though the putative MVP arrived just when DC needed him most. Over the course of a 34-game season, 0.09 points per game is one win.

These statistics shouldn't be oversold. Even though De Rosario spent almost half a season in New York and DC, the sample sizes still aren't huge. Factors such as international duty and schedule strength would have impacted those records every bit as much as De Rosario's presence or absence. With his gaudy scoring totals there's no doubt that De Rosario was an asset this past season.

However, we're not talking about the MLS Award for Being, On Balance, Useful. We're talking about the most valuable player. The one man who made the league go round, the one player without whom you can't conceive his team being nearly as good. Dwayne De Rosario was not that man. He was the man whose teams did marginally but noticeably worse when they traded for him. That is the very opposite of a most valuable player, and that's why Dwayne De Rosario should not win.