Dom Dwyer stood in front of his Sporting Kansas City locker and attempted to recap the previous hour of his life. In a laid-back, calm demeanor, he analyzed every moment, but one still felt like a whirlwind swirling in his head.
Dwyer had used a brilliant move to tally the game-winning score in Sporting KC’s 2-1 victory over Houston that clinched the Eastern Conference championship. The win sent the club into the MLS Cup against Real Salt Lake, which will start at 3 p.m. Dec. 7 at Sporting Park.
It was the signature goal of his young career, he would later say. But right now, he was drawing a blank.
“I don’t remember it,” Dwyer said matter-of-factly. “I really don’t. Too crazy.”
That didn’t stop him from explaining why it happened.
“If it’s a big game you really need to win, big players step up in big games,” Dwyer said.
And he should know.
As crazy as that moment may have felt, it hardly compared to the extent of his 2013 season.
In late June, Dwyer, a 23-year-old Englishman, was one of four players loaned to Orlando City S.C., Sporting KC’s affiliate in the lower-tier USL Pro league.
Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes insisted the move was not a demotion, but it certainly felt that way to Dwyer, who already wanted more playing time in Major League Soccer.
“You want to help out the team and play at the highest level you can, so obviously that was difficult to take,” Dwyer said.
Instead, he spent 13 matches as the Orlando City striker. He scored 15 goals.
“I know he’ll probably laugh when I say this, but as much as the original four guys we sent down to Orlando felt like that was a demotion, what happened is exactly what I wanted to happen,” Vermes said. “The guys got in a routine so when they came back here, they were able to step right in and give us the kind of influence we were looking for.”
True to his word, Dwyer stepped up in Orlando City’s biggest game of the season.
Sporting KC again loaned Dwyer back to Orlando for the USL Pro Championship, and he scored four goals in a wild 7-4 win against Charlotte on Sept. 7.
The news of his performance slowly trickled in to Sporting KC, who played host to Columbus on the same night.
“Ridiculous,” forward Soony Saad said. “But I’m not surprised.”
Less than three months later, Dwyer has the opportunity to claim his second championship of the calendar year. This one, of course, would be a bit more memorable.
His goal against Houston — his 26th score of the 2013 season across all competitions — helped Sporting KC earn this opportunity.
“That was a really, really good day for him,” said Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who assisted on the goal. “It’s really clicked with Dom since he came back. I think he’s really good inside the box because he has the ability to hold the ball.”
That is a natural talent Dwyer says he’s always had, but teammates are seeing him utilize it more regularly since returning north.
Apparently Vermes likes what he sees, too. Dwyer started an MLS match on Aug. 31 for the first time in his career.
He started the final six games of the regular season, scoring twice, and he’s been a regular in the lineup in the postseason.
“He’s obviously grown as a player, and I think he’d admit that his time in Orlando helped him tremendously,” Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi said. “His confidence obviously grew quite a bit coming back from that when you score that many goals. When he’s in positions where he’s in front of goal, you can tell that his mind slows down a little bit.”
Dwyer figures to be in the lineup again Saturday in the MLS Cup.
He tallied four goals the last time he played for a championship. Perhaps a similar performance is on the way.
“That would be nice,” Dwyer said. “I’m very excited for (the Cup), and I’m just pleased I’m able to help my team in any way I can.
“I think I would settle for just one.”