With career lows in games played, goals scored and assists and Toronto FC missing the playoffs for an eighth year, Scarborough-born Dwayne DeRosario is determined to return next year for a 17th Major League Soccer (MLS) season.
Last January, the all-time leading Canadian goal scorer signed with Toronto FC after being selected in the MLS re-entry process’ second stage. It’s his second stint with the club after leaving three games into the 2011 season because of a contract dispute.
DeRosario’s return and the high-profile signings of English international Jermain Defoe and United States midfielder Michael Bradley raised expectations for Toronto FC, which has never made the playoffs since being admitted to the league in 2006.
After winning three of its first four games, the club stumbled in July with one win in seven contests and lost four of five matches down the stretch.
“I plan to be here next year,” said DeRosario, who scored once from 19 shots on goal in the 506 minutes he played. “I came here because there is some unfinished business and I would definitely like to have a hand in any success this club will have.”
The four-time Canadian Player of the Year acknowledged this was a difficult season for the club that changed coaches in late August with Greg Vanney replacing Ryan Nelsen.
“This is a tough league,” said DeRosario at the end-of-season press conference. “This is a long distance race and not a sprint. We were full of confidence at the start of the year, but when we hit mid-season – which, for me, is the most important part of the season – with games in hand, we kind of lost steam.”
The 36-year-old midfielder, who is sixth all-time in MLS scoring with 104 goals and shots on goal (367), is counting on the team bringing back most of its core players, including defender Doneil Henry, who was secretly sold six months ago to a Greek club.
“Doneil has huge potential,” said DeRosario, who registered an MLS career-best 15 goals four years ago while with Toronto FC. “He’s a good athlete with the potential to play anywhere in the world if he puts his mind to it. His future is in his hands. Of course, we would like to have him back at TFC, but what he does in the future remains to be seen.”
Born in Brampton to Jamaican immigrants, Henry started 19 of 21 games this season and was a key part of the club’s defence.
Despite scoring a franchise-high 44 goals this season compared to a league low 30 in 2013, Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said acquiring a playmaker is high on the club’s priority list for next season.
“We are looking to create more goal scoring opportunities,” he said. “That could be a playmaker out wide or someone in the middle. That’s one of the areas we have to improve.”
Bezbatchenko said the club is trending positively despite missing the playoffs.
“With the talent on our team, we put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs,” he said. “That’s the first time in a while that our fans have had something to care about down the stretch. I think we have proven this year that we are relevant in the MLS discussion. We have a lot to build on. We certainly could have made the playoffs if things had gone our way or if we had done a couple of things differently. But that’s sports.”
Bezbatchenko noted that Toronto FC lacked consistency. The club had just three two-game winning streaks during the season.
“The teams that made a little bit of a run or multiple small runs throughout the year have had success,” he said. “That is something we were not able to do for a stretch of games. There was never that consistency that we needed game in and game out to grind out results in this league. That’s something we have to improve on. We have to win games that are close that are tied and those that perhaps we were down a goal at the end where we could have picked up a point on the road.
“We brought in a number of players. It’s however not always just about talent. It’s about chemistry and that’s something that you can’t just develop in a day. It’s about culture and a winning mentality and that’s something we will continue to build here. I think we have a great group of guys and I am really excited to work with them going into next season.”
Winners of four straight Amway national championships from 2009-2012, Toronto FC has compiled a record of 62 wins, 120 losses and 74 draws in eight MLS seasons.