‘Jose Mourinho wasn’t happy’ – F365 talk to Chelsea-slaying game-changer who Hughes rejected for Bellamy

Ryan Baldi
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, MLS All-Star Dwayne De Rosario and Frank Lampard
Dwayne De Rosario rattled Chelsea's cage in 2006

Dwayne De Rosario never did reach the Promised Land of the Premier League, but he left his mark on Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea and almost joined Blackburn.


“Jose Mourinho wasn’t happy,” Dwayne De Rosario begins, recalling the time a goal he scored sent the combustible manager into a rage.

It was the 2006 MLS All-Star game. Chelsea, the reigning back-to-back Premier League champions, were the big-ticket opponents taking on a selection of US soccer’s top talents at Toyota Park near Chicago.

In an era before David Beckham crossed the Atlantic, MLS was fighting to be recognised globally as a respectable competitive environment. Facing off against Chelsea – led by Mourinho, backed by Roman Abramovich’s billions and fresh off signing Andriy Shevchenko – was an opportunity to further that cause.

Although it was an exhibition game, Chelsea fielded a strong line-up that included Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, John Terry and Shevchenko. They were expected to roll over their inferior opposition. After Del Rosario’s rasping 20-yard strike in the 70th minute proved to be the game’s only goal, the MLS stars could hear Mourinho screaming at his players in the visitors’ dressing room.

“Those guys weren’t happy after they lost,” De Rosario continues. “Chelsea’s signings were big global news.

I swapped jerseys with Shevchenko and Michael Essien after the game. They’re players you admire, but it’s competition. You’re competing. There’s no time to admire players. You’ve got to play and showcase your talent.

Throughout his 13 years in MLS, De Rosario earned a reputation both as a scorer of great goals – he won the MLS Goal of the Year award twice – and having a knack for finding the net in the biggest games. In his first season in the league, he scored a golden-goal winner in the MLS Cup final for the San Jose Earthquakes. He also scored in an All-Star game against Manchester United in 2011. A goal he scored against West Ham in 2008, a match-winning penalty for the All-Star side, is one he remembers especially fondly.

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“That was amazing because it was in my hometown, in Toronto,” De Rosario says. “Toronto FC had just started their venture in Major League Soccer. To be born and raised just outside Toronto in Scarborough and to be in that environment, playing against a European powerhouse again, it was really a dream come true. To play with guys like Juan Pablo Angel, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, David Beckham and to get that goal against West Ham was a great feeling.

A four-time MLS Cup winner and the 2011 league MVP, De Rosario is remembered as one of the greats of North American soccer. In 2021, he was named among the 25 greatest MLS players of all time. But he twice came close to cutting short his time in the States to pursue an ambition of playing in the Premier League, undergoing trials with Nottingham Forest and Blackburn in the mid-2000s.

Were it not for the hefty asking price demanded by MLS – with the league owning its players contracts – things might have worked out very differently for De Rosario.

“Going to MLS, I always had a keen eye to explore the European market,” he says. “The Premier League was one of those leagues that I looked at. Going to Nottingham Forest was a great opportunity. I went there and did well. The league was asking for a lot of money for me that Nottingham Forest didn’t want to pay so it fell through.

It was the same with Blackburn. I was with Blackburn when Mark Hughes was the coach. I remember Hughes called me in his office and said, ‘Listen, we really like you and we think you can bring something special to the table, but for that fee we have the opportunity to sign another Welsh player.’ And that was Craig Bellamy.

That wasn’t De Rosario’s first experience in European football. Nor was it his worst. When he began his professional career in 1997, MLS was just a year old and thus not a factor in his planning. At 18 he moved to Germany to join FSV Zwickau in the German second tier. An arduous two seasons followed, but he returned to North America stronger for the experience and ready to hit the ground running in MLS.

“I came as already a pro who had played two years in Germany,” he says. “It was an amazing experience to have when I left Germany.

It wasn’t an ideal situation. I had to deal with racism. I had to deal with new coaches coming in and not wanting me. I came back to North America trying to figure out my next steps. Then I was able to play in the USL for Richmond Kickers. From there, when I came back, it was, ‘OK, how can I get into MLS.’

I used Richmond Kickers, who had an affiliation with DC United, as a platform to springboard myself to MLS. Thankfully, it worked out. I went to DC United for their pre-season and they wanted me before the San Jose Earthquakes. But at the time Frank Gallop was the assistant coach and he got the head coaching job at San Jose Earthquakes and, as they say, the rest is history. He told me he was getting the head coaching job and he wanted me to be one of the first players that they signed. That’s how everything unfolded.

And so began one of the most glittering MLS careers in the league’s history. De Rosario returned in 2014 as a seven-time All-Star. He scored 109 goals and provided 82 assists over 367 games across spells with San Jose, Houston, New York Red Bulls, DC United and two stints with his hometown club, Toronto FC.

“I’m very proud of what I was able to accomplish,” he says. “I’m very proud to give back to the league that has given me a lot.

It’s a place now for kids to harness their skills, to play with passion and a love of their game in their own backyards. Growing up, we had to go across the pond to Europe to fulfil those dreams. Now, guys like Lionel Messi are coming here, guys like Thierry Henry who I played with in New York. To see these guys coming here, even they are surprised at the level of the league.

And the foundations he helped lay are now supporting the next generation of De Rosarios.

“My kid is now playing for TFC,” De Rosario says. “My other son is playing for Seattle Sounders’ academy. My other son is potentially going to play with Inter Miami’s academy.

To know I had a part in building this league to where it is today, where I can now be a proud father and be a proud fan of the game, it’s a humbling feeling but one that’s very rewarding.