Now that everyone has had some time to breathe after the much-rumored signing of Portuguese midfielder Nani became official on Monday, it’s time to take a look at one of Orlando City’s other Designated Players, center forward Dom Dwyer.
As longtime fans of the club will recall, Dwyer helped secure the 2013 USL championship for the Lions while on loan from Sporting Kansas City. When his transfer from SKC to Orlando City was completed in 2017, Dwyer arrived to a huge crowd of supporters at Orlando International Airport and cheers of “Welcome home, Dom!” Dwyer had become a certifiable MLS star after leading Kansas City’s attack for the previous three seasons, having scored 57 goals and assisting on another nine in 128 matches. Lions fans seemed certain that every time he stepped on the pitch, Dwyer would give the team four-goal games just as he did in that triumphant 2013 final.
Unfortunately, things don’t ever seem to work out as expected for Orlando City. In the 12 matches Dwyer was in purple during the 2017 season, he managed four goals and four assists thanks in large part to surprisingly good chemistry with former striker Cyle Larin. Larin departed at the end of 2017, leaving Dwyer to shoulder almost the entire goal scoring offense for the Lions.
Obviously the entire team had an awful campaign in 2018, with Dwyer posting the second-worst numbers of his career. He only made it into 26 of the 34 matches, mostly due to injuries, scoring 13 goals with no assists in 2,244 minutes played. To top it off, he received nine yellow cards, the most of his career in the fewest games played. It can, however, be argued that his positioning as the sole scoring threat contributed greatly to the yellows. With young MLS newcomers Chris Mueller, Josué Colmán, and the now-departed Stefano Pinho as the only other goal threats on the 2018 roster — the quicker Justin Meram is forgotten, the better, and Sacha Kljestan works substantially better as provider than scorer — it’s no surprise that opposing defenses were easily able to focus on, and often shut down, Dwyer.
Here’s the good news: Without yet having a full 30-man roster, Orlando City has four other forwards going into the 2019 season in former FC Dallas striker Tesho Akindele, 2019 MLS SuperDraft third overall pick Santiago Patino, Homegrown Player Benji Michel, and 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year finalist Mueller. In addition to the five all-out attackers, the club also added the attacking prowess of Nani, who will most likely feature in the left winger spot but could also slot in alongside Dwyer should Head Coach James O’Connor stick with his favored 3-5-2 formation.
If O’Connor decided to alter the formation to fit better with Nani’s natural position, it would likely become a 3-4-3 as The Mane Land’s Scott Carnevale pointed out. Mueller would seamlessly fill the right wing role, as he did throughout 2018, allowing Dwyer the option to partner with either him or Nani as play dictates. Considering Nani was able to pair with a little player named Cristiano Ronaldo during his time at Manchester United, a partnership with Dwyer appears to be well within both of their skill sets.
Perhaps the most important reasons to believe that Dwyer will have an improved season in 2019 are the additions of Akindele, Patino, and Michel. Not only do these players give the Lions some desperately needed depth in the attack (albeit largely unproven), they also bring forth the opportunity for O’Connor to change the team’s tactics. It goes without saying how useful that will be in matches where the opposition’s defenders believe they have Dwyer under control, only to be confused when one of the previously mentioned three comes off the bench as an out-and-out strike partner for him.
Akindele, in particular, is already demonstrating a growing chemistry with Mueller, meaning a front three consisting of that partnership and Dwyer could be lethal. Patino has displayed an ability to strike from distance, something that isn’t one of Dwyer’s strongest attributes, so he could potentially be the yin to Dwyer’s yang. Michel has his own talents to bring to the pitch as well, and will greatly benefit from learning under the veteran Dwyer.
Overall, it certainly looks to be a season in which Orlando City’s leading scorer can prove why he’s already a club legend.