SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City coach James O’Connor said he didn’t expect to give star striker Dom Dwyer as many minutes as he did during the Lions’ season opener against NYCFC.
Dwyer had only recently returned to full training after suffering a quad injury in preseason and missing all of Orlando City’s preseason matches, according to O’Connor.
Still, Dwyer came on in the second half and immediately impacted Saturday’s match, setting up Tesho Akindele’s match-tying goal and helping the Lions secure a 2-2 draw with NYCFC.
“I’m pretty close,” Dwyer told Pro Soccer USA before Thursday’s training session. “I felt good in the game. Just trying to get a bit more miles under my belt in the training sessions. Working hard through the week. Hopefully, I’ll be back to full fitness this week, if not next.”
Orlando City takes on the Chicago Fire at 1 p.m. on Saturday at SeatGeek Stadium.
O’Connor said he’s going to be “sensible” about incorporating Dwyer back into the starting XI and added he doesn’t want to risk further injury to his star striker. Dwyer came on in the 69th minute of Saturday’s match. Winger Nani joined him on the pitch soon after.
Even before the regular season started, O’Connor was adamant about ensuring his star striker was in a position to stay healthy.
“With Dom, I think we need to try to manage Dom,” O’Connor told Pro Soccer USA three days before Orlando City’s opener. “I think the big thing with Dom is, when you look at last year, he missed preseason. He’s missed a large chunk this year. We need to load him to make sure that we put him in a good spot where he can go on and do what we all know he’s capable of.
“For me, he’s more than capable of going and hitting a serious amount of goals. For that to happen, we need to make sure that his preseason is done correctly, and he’s loaded in the right way.”
It’s no secret Orlando City struggled to score last season when Dwyer wasn’t on the pitch.
It was a rough 2018 overall for the Lions, but Orlando City was at its best when Dwyer was at his best. The Lions were 6-4-2 (20 points) in matches where Dwyer scored a goal and 2-18-2 (8 points) in matches where he didn’t. Dwyer led Orlando City with 13 goals in 26 appearances (25 starts).
Last season, O’Connor mentioned surrounding Dwyer with more goal-scoring options. The club signed a few more strikers, then made a splash by signing former Manchester United and Sporting CP winger Nani to a designated player contract.
“It’s great,” Dwyer said about working with Nani. “He’s a solid pro, even more than I expected. Obviously, he’s a player that has a lot of qualities and I’ve seen him play for many years, so it’s exciting for him to be here. He comes with a drive, he comes with a hunger. He wants to win. He’s not coming here to end his career. He’s coming here to succeed more. You can see it in his work, you can see it in his attitude. It’s exciting for all of us to play with him right now.”
He added, “It’s amazing. Not only is he going to open up space for me, but he’s going to bring a lot of qualities to our side and he’s going to create a lot of chances.”
Against NYCFC, the two stars came on to roars of appreciation from the announced home crowd of 25,527.
“It’s a great feeling,” Dwyer said about his reception on Saturday. “We’ve all worked pretty hard in the offseason and I’ve had a frustrating preseason, I think, missing a lot of games and missing a lot of time. It was nice to receive that little welcome from the fans and it just gives you a bit more desire to keep working harder.”
Ruan (quad) and goalkeeper Adam Grinwis, who has cleared concussion protocol, were full participants in Thursday’s training session. Defensive midfielder/centerback Carlos Ascues was present for the media portion of training on Thursday. Centerback Lamine Sané remains week-to-week with a calf injury.
Orlando City’s away match against the New York Red Bulls on March 23 has been moved to 7:30 p.m. It was previously scheduled for 7 p.m.