Dom Dwyer still remembers what it was like when MLS fans didn’t recognize him.
The striker started his U.S. soccer career at Tyler Junior College in Texas – a school with just over 11,000 students. While there, he was a part of two NJCAA championship squads and was the junior college Player of the Year in his second season before he transferred to USF.
From USF, he was picked up by Sporting Kansas City in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, but he struggled to see match minutes. He was loaned to Orlando City (then a USL side) and started to make a name for himself.
“I think it’s important to remember that,” Dwyer said about starting off at a small school.
“It makes that journey a little bit sweeter. You remember the times where you’re trying to find a field to play on, and now you’re playing in this beautiful stadium. Remember just walking down the street and no one knew who you were and then you walk down the street and people scream and shout at you.”
After scoring 99 professional goals, the anonymity is gone. Ask any Orlando City supporter and they’ll happily say Dwyer scores when he wants. Sometimes they’ll throw an expletive in there, too.
Dwyer will go for pro goal No. 100 when the San Jose Earthquakes (1-2-2, 5 points) visit Orlando City Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“It will be great,” Dwyer said about potentially scoring his 100th goal at home. “I’m very much looking forward to it. It’s nice – you guys talk about it quite a lot and it’s something I’m sure I’ll be very proud of in my career, but I’m very focused on the next 100 after that, as well.”
Dwyer, who missed the first three matches of the season, has been on fire since his debut against the New York Red Bulls three matches ago. He’s got four goals on nine shots (five on target) in Orlando City’s last three matches – all wins – and has been a defensive asset, too.
For comparison, Dwyer had four goals for Orlando City in 12 matches in 2017 after he was acquired from Sporting Kansas City.
“He’s showing a different level of hunger this year than I feel like he had last year with our group,” coach Jason Kreis said.
“I know there’s some difficulties adapting to a new team and a new way of playing, but I think this year he’s showing himself to be extremely willing and able to do whatever’s asked. Running very hard for us, making a lot of really important plays that don’t seem like much just by chasing things down, pressing people, being able and willing to throw his body wherever it takes. I think he gets rewarded for that.”
Backflips have been included in most of Dwyer’s goals, though after his game-winning goal over Portland, he didn’t quite stick the landing.
“I might put it away for a little and bring out another time,” Dwyer said. “We’ll see.”
Midfielder Will Johnson said it’s no coincidence the Lions form has turned around since Dwyer made his debut. Orlando City played three matches while Dwyer sat out with a groin strain. In those three matches, the Lions earned just one point and scored two goals.
In the three matches since Dwyer’s return, Orlando City has scored nine goals.
“[Dwyer] brings energy,” Johnson said. “He brings quality. He brings leadership, in his own way, starting the pressure on defense. It’s a guy who went to a small school, started in the USL … the story is pretty cool. So for 100 goals, whenever that one comes, it’s a nice opportunity to stop and reflect on what you can do if you put your mind to it and never give up.
“Keep working, no matter if you’re in a junior college or USL or whatever. The dream has been proven into reality and Dom’s a great example. Hopefully we see it this weekend. If not, I’m sure it won’t be far behind.”
Dwyer’s services will likely be needed again this weekend. The Earthquakes have scored at least a goal in all of their matches so far this season, but have gone winless in four matches since their season opener against Minnesota United.
“We’re looking forward to the game,” he said. “We’ve been working hard through training this week and just trying to stay consistent on the things we’ve been doing.”