Even Dom Dwyer was stunned as he stepped off the plane to officially announce himself as an Orlando City player. He expected a few people, maybe 20 or 30, there to greet him and welcome him back to a club that helped usher in his rise. Instead, he was greeted by hundreds.
In that moment, Dwyer knew the universe had found a way to work itself out. Leaving Kansas City hurt, especially after all he’d accomplished, but as he dove into the arms of dozens upon dozens of Orlando City supporters, everything felt right.
During his time at Sporting KC, Dwyer quickly rose from unknown prospect to MLS playoff hero. He became one of the best strikers in MLS while developing with the club that drafted him out of the University of South Florida. He settled down, built a family and, eventually, found his own way of giving back to the country that adopted him by becoming a U.S. Men’s National Team forward.
Then came the trade. On Tuesday, Dwyer was traded to Orlando City for a record haul of allocation money. The move sends Dwyer back to the only other professional club he’s ever played for four seasons after he helped lead the Lions to a USL crown. A lot has changed since, for both the city and the forward, but despite everything that’s happened in between, Dwyer feels like he’s now a part of something special, something that was meant to happen. If there was any doubt lingering in the hours following a life-changing move, it all disappeared the moment he stepped off that plane and into Orlando International Airport.
“I’m trying to enjoy each moment of it,” Dwyer told SBI. “It’s a once in a life time thing. I’m so excited to be at this club. It’s a very special place and has a special place in my heart already. After that warm welcome, I can’t wait to get back into it.
“They made me feel like Neymar out there.”
In truth, the past month has been a “whirlwind”, Dwyer says. He’s fresh off his first USMNT camp, one which saw him score a pair of goals in his first two USMNT appearances. It took just just 19 minutes for him to make his mark in his debut against Ghana before a goal against Panama earned the USMNT a draw to open the Gold Cup.
For many, the pressure of making your international debut just a year away from a World Cup is more than enough, but Dwyer had even more to worry about. In the back of his mind, he knew his future with Sporting KC was in doubt as he joined the U.S. for the first time. He remained focused on camp, but he knew it was possible.
When he returned and didn’t feature in Sporting KC’s 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake over the weekend, he read the writing on the wall.
“We’ve been in discussions for awhile with Kansas City,” he said. “I realized that it probably wasn’t going to work out. We gave them the choice before I left for the Gold Cup with the national team to sign me. They had an opportunity and they didn’t want to take it. I did okay with the national team camp and scored a couple of goals. I’m sure Orlando already had interest and, while I was away, things started to move.
“I felt it coming. I had heard some rumors. I was a little bit surprised, because obviously you hear rumors and you never really think it’s going to happen. Obviously, the last couple of days, it started to become a reality that it was very close to being done. Now it’s done, and I’m very happy. I’m delighted to be here. I’m not just saying that either. This is a dream for me.”
That dream, in some ways, began during the USL days. On loan from Sporting KC, Dwyer instantly became a fan favorite during his first Orlando City stint. He scored a whopping 15 goals in 13 games, but didn’t take part in the club’s initial playoff run as he was called back by Sporting KC. He returned to Orlando for the final, and he responded by scoring four goals in a 36 minute span to lead the Lions to a 7-4 win over Christian Ramirez and the Charlotte Eagles.
Much has changed since, obviously, and Dwyer will be expected to change now as well. He’ll be tasked with playing alongside Cyle Larin, giving him a striker partner for the first time in several years. Dwyer says it isn’t totally uncomfortable, though. All through his childhood, he learned to play with two strikers and, to be honest, he feels even more comfortable with someone alongside him.
Larin and Dwyer have a whopping 96 career MLS goals between them, and Dwyer says he expects the transition to be pretty easy.
“You see a guy, you give him the ball,” Dwyer said with a laugh. “You’re not alone anymore. You don’t have to do things totally yourself. I’ll adapt. I’ll learn.”
It could all start as soon as this weekend. The Lions visit Atlanta United this weekend, kicking off a three-match road swing to begin Dwyer’s tenure. The forward will have to wait until August 19 to get his home debut and play at Orlando City Stadium for the first time. He missed Sporting KC’s visit back in May, but that initial home match will be something special for a player that left Orlando soccer in its infancy and now returns to a stadium and fanbase eager to sing his name.
There’s work to be done first. He needs to work with Jason Kreis and figure out what the club needs from him. He needs to develop chemistry with Larin and playmaker Kaka. He needs to, perhaps most importantly, finally settle down after one of the most chaotic months of his life.
The airport reception was nice. It was a warm welcome, a feel good moment for a returning player. Dwyer doesn’t want that to define him, though, and he doesn’t want to be remembered for the price the club paid to get him. The club did their work in bringing him to Orlando City. Now, it’s his turn to prove why they did it.
“I think, when a club really wants you and they show that, as a player you want to repay them right away,” Dwyer said. “I’m delighted and honored that Orlando wanted me this badly and worked hard to do it and make it work. Now, it’s my turn to repay back the club.”
“I need to help this club get to the playoffs. That’s the most important thing for us this year. I want to win a championship. I’m here to win. I’m here to score goals and push this club forward. I’m hungry to do that and I’m ready to get to work. “