Photo by USA Today Sports Images
By TATE STEINLAGE
The life of a Major League Soccer forward is never easy. Ask Sporting Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer.
After scoring 15 goals for Orlando City SC last season on loan, the 24-year-old Dwyer made his way back to Kansas City — back to MLS action — only to struggle to find the net, scoring just twice in a four-month spell.
But in a neck-and-neck battle against rival the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference Finals, Dwyer hushed his critics by calmly finishing a goal that would send Sporting KC to the MLS Cup.
Fans in Kansas City know how that story ends.
Move ahead to this season and Dwyer still vividly remembers that goal. It was personal, and since then Dwyer has been a menace in the league. He’s more fit, stronger and, to the delight of Sporting KC fans, finishing goals left and right. Fourteen goals through 22 games in 2014, to be exact.
The result is a much happier Dom Dwyer.
“I was playing a lot of games last year and I think I was learning my defensive drills,” Dwyer told SBI. “I wasn’t really finding the net, and now I’m starting to find the net. It’s fun and we’re winning games so we’re in a good place right now.”
Dwyer has quickly become a fan-favorite in and around Kansas City through social media, including his enthusiastic ‘selfie’ goal celebration after scoring on the Chicago Fire July 6.
His team currently sits atop the Eastern Conference with an 11-6-6 record despite season-ending injuries to defenders Chance Myers and Ike Opara and manager Peter Vermes having to go with 23 different lineups through as many games. To say that Dwyer’s resurgence has helped Sporting KC would be an understatement.
“I think I feel (that) my teammates and the coaches have a lot (more) confidence in me as a player,” Dwyer said. “They believe in me and that makes me feel more confident. They trust me and I trust them so it’s nice.”
Dwyer has fueled his focus primarily on two aspects of his game.
“I’m fitter every single year,” Dwyer quickly pointed out as the first. “That’s my goal. I’m working on my fitness, body, strength and everything. I’ve been training hard and kind of working on everything every single day I can so each year I’m going to get better and better.”
The second is an increasing defensive mindset: “I never really thought about it when I was playing before (last year), and I began to realize how big of a part of the game it is,” Dwyer said. “I’m passionate about us not letting goals in, and I just want to win games. Now I can help on the offensive side and defensive side so it’s definitely something I’m glad to add to my game.”
That team-first mentality would be put to the test in late July when he was left off the initial 23-man All-Star Game roster despite being second in the league in goals scored.
Dwyer stayed committed.
“I just want to be the best I can be for my team and win another championship,” Dwyer said. “That’s the plan right now. The All-Star thing would have been great and a dream come true for me but it wasn’t meant to be so I’ll wait another year and hopefully this time next year I can do better and do enough to be on the team.”
Dwyer wouldn’t have to wait much longer or do much more to see his dream come true. He would be picked to replace Toronto FC forward Jermain Defoe in the MLS All-Star Game 10 days later, and play 19 minutes in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich.
The amount of media attention Dwyer now receives is no different than in 2013, but the reasoning is. He’s now asked about breaking club and league records, even questions about a possible stint with the U.S. Men’s National Team in the future — not, “When will the consistency come?”
It’s rapid success for a young player who faced such adversity a year ago, but it isn’t stopping Dwyer from continuing to improve to help his team repeat as MLS Cup champions.
“I want to build every year,” Dwyer said. “Each year I want to get better and better and better. It’s going to happen and it’s going to come in time.”