Ahead of the start of the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season, Toronto FC II announced the signing of four players from the TFC Academy: midfielders Luca Accettola and Markus Cimermancic, defender Kundai Mawoko, and goalkeeper Adisa De Rosario.
To long-time watchers of Toronto FC, one of those names stands out – Adisa is the son of TFC legend Dwayne De Rosario – but the former captain is a proud papa twice over, helping two of those young men take another step down the pathway to achieving their soccer dreams.
Right-back Kundai Mawoko, 18, is the first player from the DeRo TFC Academy to sign a professional contract at the club.
“Oh, definitely, definitely,” smiled Dwayne De Rosario through the phone on Thursday. “I treat all of my students as my own child; I give them the same advice.”
“Super proud to see Kundai, one of the originals that came to our program when we first started, to see him develop alongside my son,” he continued. “It gives me great pride to know that these kids are taking the game to the next level. And, for me, that is success.”
That was the hope back when the DeRo United Futbol Academy began in 2012.
“The focus was to create a pathway for kids who have ambition to take the game to the next level,” De Rosario explained. “It stemmed from my foundation and working with kids, doing one-on-one development training, and it expanded.”
“We decided, before I retired, to take another step forward and start the academy in the east where these kinds of infrastructures, opportunities were lacking,” he continued. “I wanted to do my part to help facilitate that.”
In 2021, the academy became an official affiliate of the Toronto FC Academy as DeRo TFC, the regional partner in Durham.
“We start as young as five now,” De Rosario detailed. “We have a pre-academy development program and go right up to U-18. Our focus is to develop young men before we develop the athlete. I take great pride in that, developing the individual, teaching them the importance of respect, discipline, character, and being a team player and what that's about. As well we focus heavily on nutrition, strength and conditioning, and we try to really use the sports platform to teach these very important life lessons.”
“The next component is creating the athlete,” he continued. “We focus on individual development more than team development because we are getting our players ready for the next phase, the next chapter. As you've seen with the amount of kids that we put into the TFC program, I’m a big advocate of creating opportunities for these kids and getting them out of our program as quickly as possible.”
“The important thing to me is not winning championships and winning tournaments – of course, when we play, our objective is to win – but we take greater pride in knowing that we've helped kids move on to the next level in their career and in their development.”
The affiliation with his former club has been “amazing on so many levels,” according to De Rosario.
“I'm an ambassador for the club, [TFC President] Bill Manning was very supportive of the partnership,” he continued. “A lot of kids in the east had found it difficult to get into the TFC program.”
“We bridge that gap and create a platform where kids have the opportunity to not only showcase themselves in the TFC environment, but also an opportunity for our coaching staff to learn from their coaching staff and how they do things at TFC.”
Mawoko recalls fondly his time with De Rosario before joining the TFC Academy.
“I went there at U-11. It was an opportunity that could prepare me for the Toronto FC Academy; that would enable me to improve my skills and be ready for an environment like this,” he said. “ I spent three years there and immediately I could tell the difference.”
“The competition we were playing on a weekly basis was much stiffer, more fierce. And the demands off the field as well – timeliness, respect – the level of coaching was higher,” Mawoko added. “It was a good experience.”
Even if it began with a shocking revelation.
“I'll be honest,” admitted Mawoko. “I actually had no idea who Dwayne De Rosario was.”
“But I quickly grew to know the legend he is, the great player he was, still is – he's still very good,” he smiled. “Automatically I could tell, it's just a different level. The experience that Dwayne had allowed me to learn a lot.”
“Not just tactical [and technical], it provided that stability in my mind, if you're going through an up and down, you'll be okay, that's just a part of the game,” Mawoko outlined. “Somebody of that calibre coaching you felt very special.”
Adisa De Rosario was sitting on a couch in the TFC media department as his friend made this admission: “I’ve known Kundai for a very long time. I did not know that he didn't know that, but I know for sure that it didn't take him long to understand the professionalism that Dwayne tends to drive into his kids, his young athletes.”
“The levels of having respect and doing what it takes to make it to the next level,” he highlighted. “[Dwayne] always did a really good job of making that part of the game very clear.”
The 18-year-old goalkeeper made one appearance for TFC II last season, in a friendly against AFC Sunderland in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He spent time on loan with HFX Wanderers FC of the Canadian Premier League last year as well, before returning to Toronto.
“Being in a different city, living on your own, it's fun, but challenging,” De Rosario said. “Life comes at you fast. You’ve got to worry about what you're going to eat more than just tonight and how are you going to make it?”
“Luckily, I enjoy a lot of time in the kitchen, so I made do,” he smiled. “Experience was really good, but I'm happy to be back and looking forward to the new year with the second team.”
Mawoko made five appearances in MLS NEXT Pro out of the academy in 2022 before signing on for this season.
He describes himself as: “A dynamic player, I can get up and down the right side, defend high-level wingers. I can get inside the box, create chances.”
“I have a good eye on Richie Laryea, he's a great player,” Mawoko continued. “That's who I mimic a little bit of my game from. The ability to come inside, create things, make things happen and play on both sides of the ball.”
While proud of marking this milestone in their careers, both are aware that the work has only just begun.
“It's good to see how far you've come,” said De Rosario. “It makes you proud of yourself and happy from all the work you put in, but now we're in a different environment. More work and more pressure.”
“It's good. It's good for young players, keeping us very focused and committed to the game every day,” he continued. “It gives us the will to make it pro, makes us more eager to make it to the next level.”
Mawoko hails from Whitby, Ontario, and while De Rosario was born in San Jose, California, he and his family will forever be associated with the eastern regions of Toronto.
Brampton has been getting a lot of love as a hotbed of Canadian soccer talent, but don’t sleep on the east.
“Brampton does have a lot of big names, but from what I know the east – Scarborough, Whitby, Durham Region – there's a lot of quality ballers that came out of that part of the city,” said Adisa De Rosario. “Props to Brampton for putting Canada on the map, but it's not just Brampton. All across Ontario, all across Canada, our young athletes are getting better and better.”
Added Mawoko: “We're definitely not to be left unnoticed.”
“And as we go on, there'll be more and more coming, especially with the DeRo TFC Academy,” he continued. “With more infrastructure, we can continue to grow the game in a good way in the East End.”
TFC II kicked off their season at the end of March and the Young Reds are still looking for their first win of the 2023 campaign.
Both teenagers are excited for what lies ahead.
“From a team perspective winning,” underlined De Rosario. “We had a very good season last year and this year, being a signed player, having more of a role on the team. We had such a good start to the new league last year all you want to do is just get better in the new year, win more games and lift up trophies. That’s the end goal, for sure.”
Said Mawoko: “Team success, that's the goal, but from a personal standpoint, just getting better in every aspect, eventually see myself in the first team.”
“Working, working, working every day, putting in the hours, putting in the effort, and seeing myself grow,” he added. “That's definitely one of the biggest goals.”
From the DeRo TFC Academy to the TFC Academy to TFC II and beyond. Dream big.
“It’s the World Cup, it’s got to be the World Cup,” reminded Mawoko when the pair were asked what the future holds.
“Representing your country, in your home country,” said De Rosario. “That’s the dream come true.”
“Playing at higher levels, playing in front of bigger crowds, providing for my family through soccer,” added Mawoko. “It's attainable, it's there.”
“It's exciting to know that I have the pathway and it's up to me to get stuck in and really put my head down and grind for what I want,” he closed. “It's good to know that Canada is providing this pathway for young players like Adisa and I.”