Playing in the spotlight of his father's legacy, Osaze De Rosario building his own name with York United
May 06, 2022
FOR ANY YOUNG player, there are always numerous challenges trying to start a career. It starts with finding the right club, the right league, and the right coaches that are a good fit to allow for development and meaningful minutes. For Osaze De Rosario, his first season has come with challenges that few could ever expect.
Last September, De Rosario, 20, signed a three-year contract last with FC Rukh Lviv in the Ukrainian Premier League and made his debut shortly before the league’s winter break. De Rosario was attracted to the Ukraine as it was a country that takes its soccer very seriously – particularly with its youth. In 2019, the Ukraine won the U-20 World Cup, and its full national team is still in contention to qualify for this summer’s World Cup.
The path that brought De Rosario to Ukraine was a winding one. The son of one of the greatest ever Canadian soccer players, De Rosario was passionate from the sport at an early age. He first began earning recognition with the NYCFC academy before he left to trial in Spain. It was there that he made the connection for Rukh Lviv, who eventually offered him a contract.
Everything was progressing well for De Rosario but when he returned to Lviv following the break, he found himself in the midst of a budding global conflict.
Russian troops began assembling along the Ukrainian border in great numbers. A full-scale invasion was imminent. De Rosario was trying to simply focus on his soccer, but when the U.S. government told its citizens in the Ukraine to leave, De Rosario knew it was time to go.
Osaze De Rosario, filho do grande Dwayne de Rosario, marcou esse golaço na partida de ontem contra o Palmeiras pela Florida Cup. O time brasileiro ganhou por 2-1. #NYCFC #FloridaCup pic.twitter.com/JWh8ACULNu— NYCFC Brasil (@brasil_nycfc) January 19, 2020
“I was hearing there was a build-up, but I wasn't too focused on a war,” De Rosario said. “I was thinking there was no way. Until it really started building up and people started calling me and asked what was happening. I wouldn't say I was scared, but I was definitely starting to ask myself what's the next thing?”
“There was a lot of things going through my mind,” De Rosario continued. “Then the President of the United States said all citizens had to leave and then it hit me that this is getting very serious. When I left, I was like - is this really a war? Is this really real? Am I really leaving because of these things?”
Located on the western side of the country, Lviv is one of the main cultural centers of the Ukraine. Playing and living there helped him mature both as a player and as a person.
“You could feel the culture with the Eastern European vibe,” De Rosario said. “The football there is very professional. You know what you need to do. They know what they want from their players - especially me as a striker. They didn't speak the same language as me, but I had to understand. I had to grow as a player. It's a different style of play. It's a lot of work you have to put in in order to show yourself - not just from being a different player on the team but to become one of the main players. It was a very good experience and I liked it a lot. “
“The city itself is very beautiful - beautiful people and everything,” he added. “I've never been to a city that was built in such a way.”
Due to the circumstances, De Rosario along with many of the league’s foreign players were able to leave the club by mutual consent. Just days later, the Russian invasion began and the Ukrainian Premier League’s season was halted.
Lviv has since become an important place for Ukraine as many embassies have relocated there and it has become an important stopping point for refugees. De Rosario still keeps in touch with his former teammates and coaches and notes no one has been injured in the conflict.
Leaving was difficult for De Rosario.
"I came here to Ukraine to play football," De Rosario said. "I represent my country and Ukraine. It was hard and it was sad. I felt bad, but I had to keep moving."
De Rosario returned home to the Toronto without a club or a set plan. There were a few options – including one in the USL. But he opted to sign a one-year deal with Toronto-based York United of the Canadian Premier League. The deal also includes club options through 2024.
The Canadian Premier League is only in its fourth season but De Rosario happy about the opportunity to play near home after his time in the Ukraine.
“The first thing was regrouping back in Toronto,” De Rosario said. “Once I did that, my father and I figured out what was next. York United brought me in to train and stay fit, and an opportunity came from it… The league itself is a professional league. I have a lot of respect for this league. You see a lot of players coming out of this league and moving to higher levels. It's a great thing that Canada has its own league because this is a soccer playing country. We have great soccer players and you can see that on the national team.”
In the Canadian Premier League, Osaze De Rosario, 20, scored a goalazo for the 2nd straight week. This DeRo (confirmed born in California) was playing in the Ukrainian Premier league, left days before the invasion - now in Canada where his dad is a legend pic.twitter.com/ILJrHfk6DC— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 23, 2022
For De Rosario, however, returning home to Canada meant stepping into the immense legacy of his father Dwayne De Rosario. The younger De Rosario does not try to shy away from his father’s history with Canadian soccer, but he is also trying to build his own name on his own merits.
“Building my own name, living within the legacy - it comes with a lot of work, obviously on my part,” De Rosario explained. “When you hear the name 'De Rosario' you think of my father. But building my own name is that when you hear 'De Rosario' you think of me. But yes, this name does hold a lot of weight in this city, and I am very proud to represent it.”
York United is managed by Martin Nash who is the younger brother of Canadian basketball great Steve Nash – who is a co-owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps. Martin Nash was also a former teammate of Dwayne De Rosario on the Canadian national team.
"He's a bright young talent, he's got a lot of technical abilities, he's got pace, he's got power, he's got strength, he's got good size," Nash said of Osaze. “Don't worry about the family name. I played with his dad - a great player in his own right. But Osaze is his own man. [He's a] different type of player. He's really strong, holds the ball really well. He's very physical, good in the air. He's a very young talent but a great kid with a great work ethic."
De Rosario’s story has garnered a lot of attention in Canada as he is off to a very impressive start. The league is only into its fourth season and after the first game, De Rosario has emerged as the team’s starting No. 9. He has scored in the last three games and is tied for the scoring lead. His first two goals were stunning strikes from outside the box – drawing direct comparisons to his father.
“When you have a good start to a season, especially in a league I have never played and against new teams and new defenders - you have to study and go through all of that,” De Rosario said. “It definitely feels good to start off the season well, but it's only been three games and it’s a long season. It's all about maintaining it.”
Osaze De Rosario, looking like his father here on his first professional goal for York United. The younger DeRo, 20, is listed as American-born while Dwayne played here. He made his pro debut in the Ukrainian Premier League but left ahead of the conflict. pic.twitter.com/N0dKZFGNIL— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 16, 2022
While the name De Rosario is synonymous with Canadian soccer, the younger De Rosario was actually born in California while his father played for the San Jose Earthquakes. In addition, a significant percentage of his life has been spent in the United States as his father continued his career in MLS with stops in Houston, Toronto, the New York Red Bulls, DC United, before returning to Canada for a final season with Toronto in 2014.
Throughout his childhood, Osaze watched MLS grow into a more modern and competitive league – which his father had a role in creating. He has also seen the United States and Canadian national teams improve to the point where both have qualified for the 2022 World Cup, and both will co-host the 2026 tournament.
The younger De Rosario, however, doesn’t want to have been just a spectator watching the growth of both countries. He wants to be a part of it. He is only just getting started in his career and is even still eligible at the youth levels should the United States, Canada, or both qualify for the 2024 Olympics.
“It is intriguing to see both of my home countries going to the highest levels at the World Cup, especially this year,” De Rosario said. “But having front row seats to it isn't my thing. I am trying to get on the pitch - to play with either national team because it would be an honor to play with either.”