FOR A LEAGUEdesigned to foster parity, MLS sure has had its share of dynasties. To make thesport financially viable in America, the league's founders opted for soccersocialism, forbidding free agency, pooling their resources and installing asalary cap ($2.1 million per team this season). Instead of an unbalancedcollection of haves and have-nots like a European soccer league, all the teamsin MLS would essentially be have-littles—and, in theory,hypercompetitive.
But on-field performance has a way of confounding theories: Two franchises havenow combined to win two thirds of the league's 12 championships. On Sunday itwas a Rastafarian vegetarian from Canada who made like a defiantYeltsin-atop-the-tank after the Houston Dynamo's 2--1 victory over the NewEngland Revolution in the MLS Cup final at Washington, D.C.'s RFK Stadium."In my eyes we've definitely reached dynasty status," said Dynamomidfielder Dwayne De Rosario, whose snapping 74th-minute header gave Houstonback-to-back titles and the franchise—including its previous incarnation as theSan Jose Earthquakes—four in the past seven years. (D.C. United has also wonfour Cups, the last in 2004.) It was the first time that anyone could rememberDeRo's finishing with his noggin. "I can't believe it," marveledmidfielder Brad Davis, whose driving cross set up the goal. "It hit hiscornrows perfect."
De Rosario'sstrike followed his assist on Joseph Ngwenya's goal 13 minutes earlier tocomplete Houston's rally from a 1--0 halftime deficit, bringing yet anotheryear of heartache to the Revs, the Buffalo Bills of MLS, who lost their fourthtitle game in as many tries. Happily, it also occasioned a revival of DeRo'strademark goal celebration, a sort of Electric Boogaloo ode to 1980s-stylepop-and-lock street dancing that serves as a shout-out to his childhood pals onthe Malvern Magic, a famed Toronto club team. Born to Guyanese immigrants, DeRosario, 29, grew up playing street soccer with tennis balls and got his firstcall-up to Canada's national team at age 16. "My roommate was FrankYallop," he recalls, "and I remember thinking, Who's this oldguy?"
Eight yearslater, after he became the coach of the Earthquakes, Yallop gave De Rosario hisfirst shot in MLS, reviving his career after two fish-out-of-water seasons withFSV Zwickau in the German second division. De Rosario has brought aswashbuckler's panache to MLS—he owns two of the past four Goals of the Yearand blasted the game-winner in the 2001 Cup—while finishing as a finalist forthe league MVP award in '05 and '06. On Sunday he became the only player to wina second MLS Cup MVP trophy. "He tries to do things that maybe otherplayers don't try to do," Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear said afterward,"and a lot of times it comes off."
Sunday's finalwas only the latest reminder that MLS is the ultimate Moneyball sports league,a notion reinforced by this season's addition of the so-called Beckham Rule,which gave each team the option to sign one player at any cost (with only$400,000 of his salary counting against the cap). Formally known as theDesignated Player rule, the change brought MLS much-needed star power—the fiveDPs included the Los Angeles Galaxy's injury-plagued David Beckham, the ChicagoFire's Cuauhtémoc Blanco and the New York Red Bulls' Juan Pablo Angel—but ithardly seemed a coincidence that neither of Sunday's finalists used its DPoption, focusing instead on building winning chemistry and roster depth.
Then again, whywould Houston sign a DP when Las Naranjas (the Oranges, as theirSpanish-speaking fans call them) are already drawing boisterous home crowds(exceeding 30,000 twice during the playoffs) and could just as easily offerraises to the players who've earned them? No MLS outfit was deeper thanHouston, which won the title despite missing two U.S. national team players,forward Brian Ching (strained calf) and midfielder Ricardo Clark (suspension)."At the end of the day it's about results," said DeRo, who wasaccompanied by his wife, Brandy, and their three children—Asha, 10, Osaze, 6,and Adisa, 3—at the postgame press conference. "We're a team that didn'thave a big superstar making millions, even though a lot of our guys deservethat kind of salary."
Consider: DeRosario earned a guaranteed $325,000 this season. Beckham, meanwhile, made thatmuch every 19 minutes he was on the field. Which one is the richer for it?
Photograph by Simon Bruty
DOUBLE DUTY After setting up Ngwenya (33) for the first goal, De Rosario (above) nailed the game-winner and began to boogie.
NICK LAHAM/GETTY IMAGES
[See caption above]