Photo courtesy of Jon Lorentz/Orlando City SC
By FRANCO PANIZO
Dom Dwyer had never scored a hat-trick during his collegiate years, much less during his fledgling pro career, so it was natural to expect him to be ecstatic after doing so in the first half of a blowout win in May. But Dwyer was not happy with his achievement immediately after the game, not after missing a number of other chances he thought he should have put away.
That Dwyer did not add to his total that day may seem trivial to most, but it is that hunger for more that has seen him light up the scoreboards in USL PRO this season, and made him the golden example of an MLS player making the most out of being loaned out to a lower division to find playing time.
Since being shipped out by Sporting Kansas City to USL PRO affiliate Orlando City SC in April, Dwyer has not only found the consistent minutes he had been yearning since being drafted in the first round of the 2012 MLS Draft. He has also has thrived in front of goal, scoring at the dizzying pace of 15 times in 13 league games while also breaking the record for goals in a USL PRO season in the process.
“If you look at the different goals that he has, he has every conceivable goal,” Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath told SBI. “Whether it be free kicks, whether he beats his man and scores, whether it’s headers, overhead kicks, he scores ugly goals that come off the post and off the goalkeeper. … I think Dom is a great goal-scorer, he’s scored all kinds of goals, and, for him, that’s a great trait to have.”
Skeptics may point out that Dwyer is tearing it up in the third division of American soccer, but Dwyer has been known for being a goal scorer ever since he arrived to the United States from England to attend Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas back in 2009. It is there where the 22-year-old made a name for himself with his nose for goal (Heath, then-head coach of the Austin Aztex, had first taken notice of Dwyer there) before transferring to the University of South Florida two years later. He continued to find the net on the Division 1 college level, playing in the tough Big East, and impressed enough in his lone season with the Bulls to warrant being selected with the No. 16 pick of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft by Sporting Kansas City.
Being chosen by such a talent-laden team had its benefits but it also had its disadvantages, with finding playing time being chief among them. Thrown into a deep forward stable that featured C.J. Sapong and Teal Bunbury, Dwyer saw the field just once in league play in his rookie season and he entered the offseason craving a steady dose of games.
That opened the door for a training stint with Scottish club St Mirren this past January, a training stint that looked to translate to a short-term loan before MLS and Sporting KC decided to pull the plug on the deal.
“I got the go-ahead for that and I thought it was all going to go through and then the transfer window opened,” Dwyer told SBI. “I trained with them for a week or two weeks and they decided they really wanted me at their club, and then MLS and Kansas decided against it and said that they wanted to keep me at the club and have me here for preseason in Kansas.
“I wasn’t (happy) at the time because I felt like I wanted to get games but I wouldn’t change anything and I’m sure in this next offseason coming that I’ll have some kind of loan deal and get some games in me for preseason, whether it’s initially the first month of preseason or two months after.”
St Mirren’s loss wound up being Orlando City’s gain. As MLS teams began furthering their still-developing relationships with USL PRO clubs, Sporting KC decided to send Dwyer and three other players to Orlando on loan deals through the end of the Lions’ season.
Dwyer was not exactly thrilled with that decision initially, as he thought he was going to have a chance to break into Sporting KC’s lineup. But after speaking to his family, Dwyer realized the type of opportunity he had in front of him and his focus quickly shifted to trying to excel with Orlando City, who needed a true goal-scorer after failing to repeat as USL PRO champions in 2012.
“We must have missed, I don’t know how many chances we missed in and around from the penalty box to the six yard (box),” said Heath. “I knew, I spoke to the staff, that if we get somebody who can get on the end of things, we get in the box so many times, he’ll score a lot of goals.”
Dwyer has done just that and then some. The Cuckfield, England native scored in all four of the preseason games he played in with Orlando City and that momentum carried over into the regular season.
Dwyer netted in his first official match for the club, scoring the equalizer that sparked a 3-1 come-from-behind victory in Orlando’s season opener against Phoenix FC. He then proceeded to finding the back of the net four times in his next five matches before notching his first career hat-trick in a 7-2 victory over Antigua Barracuda FC on May 4.
The goals kept pouring in and a month later Dwyer broke Jhonny Arteaga’s record for goals scored in a USL PRO season. It was an achievement Dwyer says he set out for himself prior to the start of the campaign and one he wants to add to with many more goals, a likely scenario given that Orlando City deploys a style of play that is tailor-made for someone like the 5-foot-9 Dwyer.
“He has a natural instinct for where the ball is going to end up and you have to say that he does take a very high percentage of his chances,” said Heath. “We do create a lot of chances, but he does (have) two or three chances a game. Unvariably, he’s taking more than 50, 60 percent of those chances, so, you only have to look at the averages of that. He’s going to get opportunities and he’s a good finisher.”
As enjoyable as the past few months have been for Dwyer, they have not been without some frustration. Dwyer, along with the rest of the Sporting KC loanees, were most recently forced to sit out of a U.S. Open Cup match because it was against Sporting KC.
That decision had been agreed upon by Orlando City and the MLS club to ensure that Sporting KC would not be negatively impacted by one of their own players, but nonetheless Dwyer was still understandably frustrated with not being able to compete and help the Lions as they tried to continue their Cinderella run in the competition.
“Once the players buy into the fact that they’re here for the season, they want to play every game. They want to be successful,” said Heath. “Obviously, they were disappointed but I think they also understood and I fully understood Sporting’s position and for the integrity of the tournament, that to keep everything above the water, I think the decision not play was right for everybody. It was right for Sporting, it was right for the players.”
Orlando went on to win the game, 1-0, and Dwyer still had the opportunity to travel with the Lions to Livestrong Park for the match despite not being able to play. Dwyer even met with a few of his Sporting KC teammates when he poked his head in the club’s locker room hours before kickoff, and he admits he relished being back in Kansas City, even if only briefly.
Dwyer – who will be eligible to play in Orlando’s next Open Cup, tonight’s quarterfinal vs. the Chicago Fire - may love Kansas City, but questions about his future with Sporting KC remain. He has an option at the end of the year that needs to be picked up if he is to stick with Sporting KC, and as of now Dwyer does not know which direction the club is leaning towards taking.
In fact, Dwyer has not spoken all that much with Sporting KC’s coaching staff since joining Orlando. That, however, does not mean they aren’t keeping close tabs on him.
“The first international break we had, I actually went to Orlando and spent a few days watching those guys train and I met with the players,” Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes told SBI. “We see their clips as well from their games and then one of my assistants was just down there a few weeks ago for three or four days as well and then I talk to Adrian here and there. I would say that we’re actually very well-connected, especially when you talk about the distance.”
For his part, Dwyer is not concerning himself too much with the future. Rather, he is focused simply on what he can control and that’s trying to help Orlando City build on their strong season with his goal-scoring exploits.
How much more Dwyer can accomplish in Orlando remains to be seen. But so far his loan deal has been a rousing success for all involved parties. So much so that he believes that other players should not be afraid of finding similar deals as long as they are ready to put in the type of effort that is needed to succeed.
“Some guys come in and might think they’re too good for this level and then when they’re coming in they start to realize it’s a little bit more difficult and you’re not just going to waltz in here and not work hard,” said Dwyer. “Obviously, you have to work hard and you’ll get your rewards.”
Clearly, Dwyer is reaping his.