There can be no excuses in 2020 for the former Sporting Kansas City striker, and current Lions DP.
It’s pretty safe to say 2019 was not Dom Dwyer's finest season in Major League Soccer. A season that started promisingly with an assist and a goal in his opening two MLS games, was blighted by a sharp drop in form which included glaring (and ultimately costly) misses in Atlanta and New York to name just a few.
Dwyer registered seven goals and four assists from 16 starts and 11 substitute appearances on the season, which, for most center forwards in Major League Soccer wouldn’t constitute a particularly bad season. But when you consider Dwyer’s salary, the Orlando City faithful (and indeed organization) could be forgiven for feeling short changed. Dwyer’s base salary for 2019 was just over $1.3 million, surpassed only by fellow DP Nani (12 goals, 10 assists on the season). Dwyer will be determined to prove the doubters wrong this season, and when you consider the moves Orlando has made in the off-season you get the feeling 2020 will provide the chance to do so.
Dwyer cut a sullen figure for much of last season, which was perhaps perfectly summarized by the red card he received in the dying embers of the 1-0 win over Columbus in July. Among the backdrop of a public squabble with the club over a (lack of) an available training pitch, and an incredibly awkward-looking MLS Media Day appearance, Dwyer looked far from happy. And at times that came through on the field.
Dwyer has spoken of his desire to prove people wrong during preseason camp. He gives the impression of a man who is entering this season with renewed vigor. This can only be a good sign for the Lions, who have made real strides to strengthen their forward options ahead of the new season.
Now, while goal scorers ultimately steal the headlines, soccer is a team sport. Strikers like Dwyer are poachers, and are often only as good as those around them. Shrewd moves for the likes of Junior Urso, Antonio Carlos and Pedro Gallese should ensure that Orlando will have a strong spine defensively, building on last season’s hugely improved defense (52 goals allowed — down from far too many in 2018). This should allow Orlando to build a stronger base for attacks, and thus increase ball retention in the attacking third.
Orlando averaged 48.1% possession per game in 2019, with an 80.1% pass completion rate. By comparison, LAFC had a 55.5% possession percentage average with 84.4% pass completion, and Atlanta registered stats of 54.3% and 82.6% in both categories, respectively. In spite of these relatively low possession-based statistics, Orlando’s more creative players were still able to create ample opportunities for their strikers in 2019:
Nani had 12 goals and 10 assists on the season. Over the course of the 2020 season Nani averaged 2.3 key passes and 2.2 dribbles. Mauricio Pereyra had four assists from only five starts and one substitute appearance. Over his six total appearances for the lions, having joined towards the end of the season, Pereyra recorded an average of 2.2 key passes and 1.2 dribbles per game.Chris Mueller had four assists and five goals from 16 starts and 13 substitute appearances. Cash registered just under one key pass and one dribble per game across 16 starts and 13 substitute appearances.
The club also averaged a very respectable 15 crosses per game, due in no small part to the way James O’Connor used his fullbacks last season. If Oscar Pareja is able to build on this, defenders visiting Exploria Stadium this season could have their work cut out.
The bottom line is you can’t create goal-scoring opportunities if you don’t retain possession in the final third. Who’d have thought, right? Orlando has made moves to address this, which should allow the likes of Nani et al to get on the ball and create chances for Orlando’s enigmatic number 14. If Dom gets the chances, he has to back himself to take them.
Dwyer is very much a confidence player, who has shown in the past that he is capable of finding the back of the net on a regular basis, as his 19 goals during Orlando’s 2013 USL Championship-winning run clearly showcased. He then went on to register 18 goals across all competitions in 2015 with Sporting Kansas City, before chalking up 16 the following year and a further 10 in 2017. It was this sort of form (and his status as something of a cult hero in Central Florida) that was a key factor in the front office’s decision to bring him back to the club where he made his name. In all honesty, so far the gambit hasn’t paid off as much as Orlando fans would like, although he did score 13 goals in 26 appearances in 2018.
All of this being said, Dom has to return to taking advantage of his chances. Goal scoring is a fine art, and is arguably the hardest thing to do in soccer. The important thing for Dwyer to focus on this season is learning from the mistakes of last season. Several of Dom’s more high-profile misses were ultimately costly ones — chances that were snatched at and thrashed towards goal by a player lacking in confidence, rather than a striker in red hot form. I’ve highlighted four missed opportunities below, which ultimately cost the Lions in terms of points. These four opportunities required a cooler head and seemed to reflect Dwyer’s glaring lack of confidence in his own finishing ability.
Now, I know this probably seems like a blooper reel for Dwyer’s 2019. That is not my intention. All goal scorers have one thing in common: they get into the right position to score. Dwyer will get the chances this season, that much is clear. Nani has a year in MLS under his belt, Pereyra will have a better understanding of his teammates after a full preseason, and Oscar Pareja’s system seems suited for scoring goals.
Dom showed glimpses of what he is capable of towards the end of last season. His goal at home to New England stands out. It was instinctive and reminiscent of the Dwyer of old. It visibly gave him a lift, and hauled the Lions back into a game that they looked dead and buried in. That’s the Dom Orlando is going to need in 2020 if the team is to finally break its play-off hoodoo.