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Dom Dwyer’s New Contract Brings Pressure to Perform for Orlando City in 2018

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With a new deal come new expectations.

MLS: New England Revolution at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A wave of relief washed over Central Florida last week when forward Dom Dwyer finally inked a new three-year contract that will keep him in purple until 2020. Rhetoric from Dwyer this off-season made it seem that his extending was by no means a guarantee after Orlando City sent a record-breaking sum of allocation money to Sporting Kansas City for his services in July. The club has rewarded Dom’s play, offering him the lucrative deal he desired but could not get with SKC, awarding the newly American striker one of the team’s coveted Designated Player roster spots. In doing so, the club has also put a heavy amount of responsibility on the striker’s shoulders.

With pressure mounting on club to finally defy expectations in year four in MLS, the front office has shed youth for experience in an attempt to assemble a squad talented enough to push the Lions above the red line and into the playoffs for the first time in team history. There have been plenty of strings pulled to improve an offense that was among the worst in the league last year and Dwyer is the cornerstone of the new-look Lions’ front line.

With Kaká announcing his retirement, Giles Barnes being let go, Carlos Rivas traded to the New York Red Bulls, and Cyle Larin seemingly with one foot out the door, Orlando will likely be losing a whopping 26 goals from its total last season. While Dwyer had a respectable four goals and four assists in his 12 matches to finish out the year, he’ll now be asked to replace the bulk of that offense in 2018. The front office has added talented forwards around him in Stefano Pinho and Jose Villarreal, but Pinho is untested in MLS and Villarreal has yet-unrealized potential. Outside of Dwyer, the stable of forwards is full of question marks. Dom is expected to be the steady and reliable outlet; if all else fails, he can’t.

He’ll have plenty of help in the league’s top two chance creators per match in the recently acquired Sacha Kljestan and Yoshimar Yotun, who both averaged 3.5 key passes every game according to WhoScored.com. But none of the additions so far this off-season are known goal scorers. The club has added plenty of technical ability, creativity, and talent but someone still needs to put the ball in the back of the net. There are still plenty of potential moves that could come between now and opening day, but the club has made it clear that it will be Dwyer leading the line.

On top of that, one of the biggest setbacks Orlando has suffered over the last three years has been the lack of consistent production from its Designated Players. Rivas, Bryan Rochez, and Barnes, however briefly, never lived up to the tag. It set the club back on the pitch without proper game-changers; while Dom has yet to be a DP, he has proven that he can change the game. But he is now four years removed from his breakout 22-goal campaign and part of the concern that led to his exit from Kansas City was that perhaps he may not be the type of consistent game changer that deserves a DP contract. He’ll have the opportunity to dispel those doubts with an arguably more creative midfield behind him, but they are still doubts that he will need to dispel.

And it’s not just on-field expectations that Dwyer will need to overcome. With Kaká’s exit, there is a gaping vacuum when it comes to team identity outside the stadium. The Brazilian legend spent three years as the face of the franchise and now that he is gone someone will need to take his place. Dwyer is naturally the leading candidate with his history with the fans in Orlando, his history of success within the league, his personality, and his new place on the U.S. national team. He’ll spend the beginning of Orlando’s preseason in California as part of the USMNT’s annual January camp.

There have been several high-profile additions that could also take up the mantle. Yotun will represent Orlando City in Russia at the World Cup this summer. Kljestan is also a U.S. national with plenty of MLS success under his belt. Jonathan Spector and Joe Bendik are both fan favorites with big personalities on the pitch. But none of them tick all of the boxes like Dom. Should Dwyer fill Orlando’s need for a talisman and act as the perpetual representative of the club, it comes with another level of expectations.

It’s a lot of pressure to be one of the pillars of the franchise. The Orlando City brass has put its faith in Dwyer to be that pillar, both with the amount of allocation money surrendered to bring him to Orlando and now the DP contract. It’s just up to Dom to repay that faith, on and off the pitch.