It’s been a long road to match fitness for Orlando City striker Dom Dwyer.
Dwyer missed a good chunk of preseason training with a hamstring injury he suffered during U.S. men’s national team camp in January. He finally played in a training scrimmage for the Lions on Feb. 16, only to miss the remainder of preseason training due to a quad strain.
It was a tricky injury, too. At first, coach Jason Kreis thought it was serious. Then he thought it wouldn’t be so bad. Then the prognosis switched to “several more weeks,” prior to the Lions’ season opener against D.C. United.
Now, with the Lions’ fourth match of the season looming, Dwyer is set to make his 2018 debut. Orlando City (0-2-1, 1 point) will finally have the services of its star striker Saturday against the New York Red Bulls in Orlando City Stadium.
“It’s never fun when you can’t get on the field,” Dwyer said. “Just trying to stay patient, keep working hard and, you know, we’re here now.”
Dwyer had four goals and four assists in 12 appearances (11 starts) for Orlando City after he was traded from Sporting Kansas City. He returned to full training on March 14 after spending weeks training away from the squad alongside attacking midfielder Josué Colmán.
“It’s been a while,” Dwyer said. “I’m very excited just to get back out on the field with the boys. You know, help the team out and obviously excited to play with this new group.”
After going winless through three matches, Orlando City’s attack is in need of a boost. The Lions have scored two goals through their first three games, and one came from the penalty spot in a 2-1 home loss to Minnesota United.
Coach Jason Kreis said integrating Dwyer back into the game plan should be a smooth process.
“Typically, I think for forwards it’s an easier task,” Kreis said. “You’re not right in the middle of things. You’re not right in the middle of so many plays. Typically, it’s much easier, tactically for a forward to integrate, as well as the fact that Dom was with us for six months last year.
“He’s a player we think should be ready and available.”
Kreis stopped short of saying how many minutes Dwyer would play this weekend.
“That’s a coach’s decision,” he said with a smile.
Saturday’s match could be the first time this season all three of Orlando City’s designated players are on the pitch at the same time. Midfielder Sacha Kljestan made his debut against NYCFC after serving a two-game suspension.
Colmán also made his debut in that match, coming on as a sub in the 76th minute.
Kljestan exercised caution when speaking about Dwyer’s return.
“It’s going to take time, that’s for sure,” Kljestan said. “I’d love to connect for three goals on Saturday, but it’s probably going to be a little difficult. We’ve got to get our relationship down and that’s going to take some time.
“The most important thing is that hopefully by the end of the season Dom and I are firing.”
Still, Kljestan said he’s excited.
“Defenses have to game plan for [Dwyer],” Kljestan said.
“If he’s being tightly marked, it will open up space for other guys to create. Obviously, if he’s left alone, or if other guys like Justin [Meram] or Josué or myself can command the defense a little bit, then Dom is free to put away some goals. A lot of people know Dom and they’ve got to be thinking about him at all times.”
While addressing media after Tuesday’s training session, Dwyer shook off a question about potentially making a splash in his return, instead directing attention to club success.
“I think it’s important for us to get a result,” he said. “I think it’s important for us to play well. I think if we do play well, the results should come.”