Playing as the lone striker is, well, a lonely gig. You’re supposed to be the team’s best scorer and ultimately everyone looks to you to make the big play. If you score, you’re the hero. If you don’t, you’re the goat. It’s a stressful position to play since you carry the weight of the team’s attacking duties with no partner in sight. You may have a false nine to work with but most don’t see it that way. It’s you and only you that is the reason the team scores.
We saw last season with Dom Dwyer’s arrival that one man can’t do it all. In 12 games last with Orlando City in 2017, Dwyer only scored four total goals. The likes of Giles Barnes, Dillon Powers, and an aging Kaká did very little for Dom. This led to him having to do more work than usual to get touches on the ball by coming back towards the midfield, away from the opposing defensive front, to get involved.
The problem is that that’s not really what is wanted out of a striker like Dom. Maybe if it’s a big, physical forward like Jozy Altidore, who could hold up play and then distribute, the work in the midfield would be more acceptable. But Dwyer needs to be near the point of attack to create problems for defenders on the back line. Causing them to decide if they should man up on him, shift, or ask for help from the midfield, is what suits Dom best.
The problem in the past was that without dangerous players around him, those decisions were made easier for opposing sides. They didn't have to worry about the No. 8 or 10 roles burning them if they focused on Dom. Equally so, they didn't have to worry about penetrating passes deep into the attacking third that kept defenders honest.
But now, those problems no longer exist. With the slew of attack-minded moves that General Manager Niki Budalic and Head Coach Jason Kreis made in the off-season, Dwyer finally has the support he deserves. Now he has Sacha Kljestan, Justin Meram, Josué Colmán, Stefano Pinho, and a very hungry rookie in Chris Mueller. All of these players are capable of making defenses pay if teams don’t give them respect and this opens everything up for Dom.
Dom has only played three matches on the season and has equaled his 2017 Orlando City total with four goals so far. The reason for this is because he’s now allowed to play in his natural position where he thrives. Dom is a finisher who can create his own shot in tight spaces but needs to be near the goal.
You can see that in the way he’s positioned lately. You may want to get upset with the multiple offside calls he’s earned, but I’m not. That means he's playing (nearly) exactly where he needs to be. He causes fits by pressing the back line to play deep, then play tight to him, all while worrying about when he could break through for a goal. Because if they don’t worry about him, he’s going to burn them.
I can’t say that I didn't see this coming as my preseason bold prediction was for Dom to tear through the league this year as the Golden Boot winner (most goals scored).
Bold prediction: Dwyer wins the Golden Boot. As the lone striker with playmakers like Meram, Colmán, and Kljestan around him, Dwyer will see ample opportunities. He’ll finally put it all together in a year that has all the off-pitch concerns settled (i.e. his contract situation, and his family all here in Orlando).
The question will be if Dom can stay consistent, but I think he will. As long as it’s not a situation like the first few weeks where the entire attacking force is out, the experience of Kljestan and Meram combined with the growth of the young players will continue to provide a tough attacking threat for all teams.
Dom thrives on opportunities given to him. Kljestan, Meram and Yoshimar Yotún already have two assists and City has 11 goals, tied for fifth in the league. The team is finding ways to score and Dom is going to continue to see plenty of those chances come his way. If he stays healthy, he’ll continue to sit on that back line and reap the rewards from the much improved attack this season.