This Sunday when Sporting Kansas City takes the field against Orlando City, one opposing player will draw an unusual amount of attention and adoration from the fans in purple. Long-time supporters will be welcoming KC forward Dom Dwyer back to the Citrus Bowl, where he became a kind of folk hero during the Lions' 2013 campaign.
After drifting on the fringe of the Sporting KC lineup, behind strikers like Claudio Bieler and Kei Kamara, Dwyer was sent to then-USL affiliate Orlando City on loan in an effort to get the young Englishman some playing time. The move yielded instant dividends for both club and player, as Dwyer found the net twice in the first three games.
Overall, Dwyer would find the net 15 times during the 2013 season, a USL record that stood until broken by another LIon, Kevin Molino. His explosive performance found him beloved among Orlando fans, and unsurprisingly he was recalled to Kansas City in late June.
As a 2013 USL Championship match-up loomed against the Charlotte Eagles, Orlando City found itself depleted in the striker department through injury and suspension. As so much of Orlando's success had been helped by Dwyer's super-human performances, the club asked for an unconventional one-game loan of Dwyer for the championship game.
If you were in the stands on Sept. 7, 2013, you will never forget that night. The club obliterated USL attendance records with nearly 21,000 fans packing the lower concourse of the Citrus Bowl. Charlotte tried to change the narrative by scoring first in the 20th minute. It was then Dwyer unleashed a performance for the ages, hitting back with two of his own.
The pesky Eagles found their way past Orlando keeper Miguel Gallardo only a minute after the Lions had taken the lead. And then again, taking Charlotte back into the lead. The hero of the day, Dom Dwyer put the team on his back and scored twice more in quick succession to put Orlando back on top. Despite more goals on both sides of the pitch, Charlotte would never find their way back into the lead.
The game would eventually end 7-4, with Orlando native Dennis Chin adding two and Orlando's first youth prospect to play professionally for the club, Adama Mbengue, netting one to seal the victory. The four-goal game was enough to earn Dwyer the game's MVP and a place among the pantheon of heroes for the young club.
While the game itself was an important one on the field, the victory and the massive fan support helped to quash any doubts that Orlando City was MLS ready. The journey to take Orlando to the top tier was the accomplishment of more people than you could possibly name, but Dom Dwyer certainly helped the City Beautiful believe in the future of soccer in Central Florida.
That same month, Orlando City would announce they were heading to Major League Soccer.
Earlier this season Orlando City manager Adrian Heath was asked about the chance of bringing Dwyer back to Florida. In now-famous comments, Heath said,
"There is no secret that Dom wants to be here. We have tried to bring him here. We have done everything we can. Unfortunately, we can't do it yet. But we will keep trying. I think this is his spiritual home. He wants to come back. We would love to have him, but we will have to wait and see how long it takes before we can do it."
While MLS and Sporting KC took offense to these comments, the wording and timing always lead Orlando's faithful to believe Heath had some particular insights into Dwyer's thinking.
While Orlando's supporters feel Dwyer's reappearance in purple is only a matter of time, this weekend we will be forced to watch him lining up against us. We will all certainly cheer him back to his spiritual home, giving him an ovation that we hope reminds him of that wonder season of 2013 and encourages him to come home.