Dero has fond memories of MLS Cup games
TFC captain won league championship 4 times
When it comes to Major League Soccer's championship game, Dwayne De Rosario is known as Mr. Clutch.
The Canadian midfielder and current captain of Toronto FC has played in the MLS Cup final four times in his career, winning all four times — twice with the San Jose Earthquakes (2001, 2003) and twice with the Houston Dynamo (2006, 2007).
He was named MLS Cup most MVP in 2001 (when he scored a spectacular winning goal in overtime) and again in 2007 (when he netted the winner with 16 minutes remaining in regulation). In 2006, he converted from the penalty spot in a dramatic shootout victory for Houston.
With this year's MLS Cup final set for Sunday at Toronto's BMO Field, De Rosario, a 32-year-old native of Scarborough, Ont., finds himself in a reflective mood about his past success in the league's championship game.
To answer the obvious question — no, he doesn't value one win over any of the others, claiming they're equally special and "all have their own sweetness."
"I can't say one time was better than another time. It's been memorable every time I won it," De Rosario told reporters Wednesday morning as the MLS Cup trophy arrived in Toronto.
"It keeps you hungry for more because once you get that feeling … you want to keep having that taste of success."
What did he feel as he took to the field as a member of the Earthquakes for his first MLS Cup final in 2001?
"Nervousness. [Not knowing] what to expect. Anticipation. All those things bottled up into one," said De Rosario. "When you play as a kid, you dream about playing in a game like this and all of those dreams are coming to life."
Only when he went back to the locker room after San Jose's 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy did the reality of winning the title fully set in.
"I don't think there are words to describe it. It's all your dreams coming true in that moment in time. It's a very emotional experience," explained the TFC star. "To know you've accomplished something you set out at the start of the year, and to do it with a great group of guys, that's the most rewarding thing."
De Rosario participated in the playoffs each year from 2001 to 2008, but hasn't made a post-season appearance since joining Toronto FC in 2009. The Reds have failed to make the playoffs since entering the league in 2007, and many were hoping this would be the year they ended the drought.
"This is my second year here that we didn't make the playoffs and it's really disappointing, especially knowing that [the MLS Cup] is in our hometown," De Rosario admitted.
Aunger 1st Canadian to win MLS Cup
The TFC captain isn't the only Canadian to have won the MLS Cup. The first Canadian-born player to hold the trophy aloft was Geoff Aunger, who won it as a member of DC United in 1999.
A former member of the Canadian national team, Aunger — who was born in Red Deer, Alta., but grew up in Vancouver — was in the late stages of his career when he joined DC United in 1998.
A year later, he helped the club win its third MLS championship, coming on as a substitute in a 2-0 win over Los Angeles.
Aunger recalled it was almost like a home game because a lot of DC United fans made the short trip from Washington to Boston.
Despite the victory, Aunger recalled the team's celebrations were somewhat subdued.
"We won it on a Sunday in the city of Boston, and the city of Boston isn't known for lively night life late on a Sunday night," said Aunger, adding that he and his teammates did some bar hopping before heading back to the hotel for the night.
An avid hockey fan who now works in New York City, Aunger believes the MLS Cup final has produced so many memorable games over the years because of the do-or-die nature of the contest.
"It's so hard to get to the final that when you get there, guys don't want to waste the opportunity. It's different with hockey, where you have a seven-game series and you can play your way into the series and feel it out," explained Aunger.
"But the unique thing about a one-off final is that you have to show up and play. Most of the times, it's the teams that have come and outplayed aggressively who have won it."