Orlando City continued to struggle to convert scoring opportunities during Saturday’s 4-1 road loss to New England, but the match featured a bright spot for the Lions — the return of Dom Dwyer.
Dwyer only saw 21 minutes on the pitch Sunday, but he made the most of it. During the stretch, the forward took four of the team’s 17 shots, placing two on frame. More important, he served up the assist on the team’s only goal of the game less than 10 minutes after taking the pitch.
Within his first minute in the lineup, Dwyer breathed new life into an Orlando City team that had fallen behind by three goals and struggled to poke holes in the New England backline. He fired off a shot during one of his first touches, sprinting in flashes up the flanks to pin the Revs in deep.
Eight minutes after he was subbed in, he cut into the corner of the box behind the New England defense again, this time serving a perfectly weighted ball for forward Tesho Akindele to run onto to add the team’s first and only goal.
“He changed the tone of the game,” Akindele said. “He created tons of chances. He was stretching them in from behind.”
Dwyer’s time on the pitch has been limited during the past few months of play. Due to a hamstring injury and the birth of his daughter, he missed four games in June. Then, after being eased back in the rotation during the course of three games, he earned a red card in the final minutes of the team’s match against Columbus, resulting in a two-game suspension.
With his presence on the pitch restricted, the result has been a dip in the designated player’s ability to contribute — before Saturday, Dwyer had notched only one goal and added no assists during the past nine games. Now that he is healthy and back from suspension, coach James O’Connor is focused on creating opportunities for the forward.
“We’ve been speaking about Dom and creating a little bit of a plan,” O’Connor said. “We’ve been delighted with how he’s trained the last few days and how he performed last night was excellent. We’re really pleased with the impact he was able to make.”
With three assists this season, Dwyer is now second on the team in assists, trailing only captain Nani. His return to full speed on Saturday was an important addition for the Lions’ attack, which was lacking Chris Mueller due to an illness that kept the forward home in Orlando.
With Dwyer available up top, the Lions feel they are adding a potent piece to their attack.
“I think all around we have a lot of depth,” Akindele said. “We have Dom up front who we can bring in, it’s the same on defense, in the midfield. Whatever the game is calling for, we usually have some depth that we can bring in that’s going to be starter level.”
After starting against New England, defender João Moutinho was forced to exit Saturday’s game at the half with a hip injury. He initially suffered the injury during the team’s home loss against the New York Red Bulls last Sunday, but the defender attempted to play through it during the first half against New England.
Moutinho already missed six consecutive games during June and July while he was recovering from a hamstring injury. His first game back with the Lions was the match against the Red Bulls, during which he played a full 90 minutes.
When Moutinho took the initial hit, he told coaches that he wasn’t sure if he could last the full game, but chose to power through. His timeline for recovery was uncertain as the team traveled home from New England.