WASHINGTON, D.C. - The question could no longer be ignored, and it was asked of D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen moments after everyone in the media room had watched Dwayne De Rosario score a hat trick and contribute an assist on the only goal he didn't score in United's 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake.
In Olsen's opinion, was De Rosario the MVP of MLS?
"He's my MVP right now," the suddenly bubbly boss responded.
"The thing with DeRo," Olsen had said earlier, "is that I am not even surprised anymore with some of the stuff he does. I've seen it as a fan of his and I've also seen it being on the other side for ten years. This is what he does and this is why we wanted him. He's just been exceptional and the guys have jumped on his back as well and rode the wave today."
If one wanted to argue De Rosario's case for being the fourth D.C. United player in the club's history to win the award (Marco Etcheverry, Christian Gomez, and Luciano Emilio are the three past winners), he would have some compelling pieces of evidence. Since arriving from New York Red Bulls in a late-June trade for midfielder Dax McCarty, De Rosario has scored 10 goals and recorded six assists. United had recorded 18 points in 15 matches (4-5-6) before De Rosario's arrival. After last night's win, the Black-and-Red have notched 20 points in the 13 matches (5-3-5) since the June 27 swap with New York. De Rosario has scored the game-winning goal for United on three separate occasions -- a 1-0 road win over New York on July 9, a 2-0 road win over San Jose July 30 (De Rosario had both goals in that victory), and Saturday night's win over Real Salt Lake. Additionally, on August 6, he almost single-handedly rescued a point for United by scoring his first hat trick of the season in a 3-3 home draw against Toronto. If value implies importance, than there is no question that De Rosario has been D.C. United's MVP.
But the MVP of the whole league? That's a trickier question.
Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated, the king of soccer writers in America, didn't see fit to put De Rosario on his updated list of MVP candidates when he discussed the subject earlier this week (before this weekend's league games, to be fair to Wahl). Each of the other candidates has arguments in their favor. Landon Donovan has been the best player on the league's best team (remember, this is a regular season award). Kyle Beckerman has had an excellent season in midfield for Real Salt Lake, while Brek Shea has broken out in a big way for FC Dallas. Meanwhile, Mauro Rosales and Brad Davis have been dynamic distributors for the Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo respectively.
None of them have had the recent statistical impact that De Rosario has had (Donovan, the only one of the five mentioned above who has matched De Rosario's goal-scoring statistics, has scored just once in the seven games he's played since the beginning of August). But soccer, unlike baseball, is not a sport that lends itself solely to statistical analysis. Baseball is unique for being a team sport made up of easily quantifiable individual confrontations. Soccer is a team game made up of individual duties, most of which are impossible to quantify beyond the achievements of the single goal scorer.
De Rosario touched on this paradox on Saturday night. "We were aggressive early on and it paid off," he said. "Everyone worked hard to put the team in a good position, and I was able to finish some of those chances."
At the moment, the smart money should probably still be on Donovan to join Preki as a two-time winner of the MLS MVP Award. But that is not unalterable. D.C. United's next two games are at Philadelphia and Columbus, two teams ahead of United in the Eastern Conference standings. If De Rosario's current vein of form continues and if he manages to drag D.C. United, the team with the worst record in the league last year and the team that was on a four-game winless skid before his arrival, into the playoffs, then his MVP case will be very, very hard to ignore.
So, what does the man himself think?
"At the start of each year, I always have an idea of what I would like to accomplish," De Rosario said Saturday night. "But, there's no feeling better than winning a championship as a team. After that, all the individual accolades are secondary."