In the final moments of a fervent Sporting Kansas City training session on Tuesday, forward Dom Dwyer aimed a lazy shot toward the crossbar, then keeled over and clutched his hamstring. He laid with his head buried in the Swope Park grass, writhing in pain, before springing to life with a smile on his face.
Dwyer’s April Fool’s Day joke, it seemed, fooled no one.
Not his teammates. Not his coaches. Not the training staff, who stood idly by.
They know better.
In his third year with Sporting Kansas City, Dwyer has earned a bit of a reputation. An exceptionally intense player on the field, he isn’t afraid to enjoy the ride along the way.
“That’s how I play better — if I have fun,” Dwyer said. “That’s what people forget. If it’s so serious all the time, they forget to enjoy themselves.”
The more fun. The more production. And vice versa.
The sliding scale is tipping toward a career-best landing spot for Dwyer, who is slowly but steadily carving out his role as the club’s top option at striker.
He owns game winning goals in each of the past two Sporting KC victories. His penalty kick served as the lone goal in a 1-0 victory against San Jose on March 22, and it was followed with a backflip. (He stuck the landing.)
A week later, Dwyer rifled a 92nd-minute, top-shelf strike into a small crevasse to give Sporting KC a 3-2 road victory in Colorado. It produced the kind of highlight video his overseas family has forwarded to him every day since.
“I think he’s been good for a pretty long time now,” SKC manager Peter Vermes said. “He’s been very dangerous, whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. That’s the kind of impact we need. He’s getting into a little bit of a routine.”
It’s a long way from where Dwyer was exactly one year ago — buried on the bench and subsequently shipped to Orlando City SC on loan, the equivalent of a young baseball player sent down to Triple-A to get more playing time.
“That was difficult to take,” Dwyer admitted.
It wasn’t meant to be a wake-up call, but it served as one nonetheless. Dwyer scored 15 goals in 13 matches in Orlando, including four in the club’s 7-4 win in the USL-Pro Championship match.
He re-joined Sporting KC for its postseason surge and netted the game-winning goal against Houston in the Eastern Conference finals, sending Sporting KC to the MLS Cup.
As a result, he returned to the club this season as a different player, he says.
“I felt like I grew a lot last year; I felt like I grew years and years,” Dwyer said. “I feel like one of the more veteran players on the team. That’s kind of a cool feeling to have.”
As he becomes a more familiar name in Kansas City, Dwyer has taken to social media to interact with fans. He has a lively Twitter account and even responded recently when someone claimed Sporting KC wasn’t receiving enough goal-scoring production from its forwards. He jokes that people will overlook his goal in Colorado to continue that narrative.
He doesn’t mince words, either.
After the match in Colorado, Dwyer hopped on the post-game radio show, “The Final Whistle,” and set the tone for Saturday’s match against Real Salt Lake, a rematch of last season’s MLS Cup Championship, won by Sporting KC in penalty kicks.
“I hate them very much,” Dwyer said of Real Salt Lake.
He shrugged off the comment three days later.
“I’m just real. I’m myself. I say it how it is,” he said.
His coach has come to expect that. And accept that.
“I would hope that my guys don’t like them. I don’t want them to like them. I want them to despise them,” Vermes said. “It’s not just them, it’s anyone we play.”
The comment was acknowledged by Real Salt Lake, which didn’t need any extra motivation for an MLS Cup rematch, but it has one. If the 2013 runners-up didn’t already know Dwyer’s name, they do now.
Dwyer threw himself into the limelight with his words. And his recent play.
He says he will be ready for whatever Real Salt Lake brings on Saturday. And he just might enjoy the back-and-forth rivalry on the field in the meantime.
“We all love playing so I feel like you should have fun while doing it,” Dwyer said. “When I come on (the field), I have that right mindset. I just may be smiling or laughing or having fun while I’m doing it.”Real Salt Lake at Sporting Kansas City
7:30 p.m. Saturday at Sporting Park
KCMI (Ch. 38); KCXL (102.9 FM)
•ABOUT REAL SALT LAKE (2-0-2):
The club is unbeaten in its first four matches for only the second time in franchise history. …Goalkeeper Nick Rimando, defender Tony Beltran and midfielder Kyle Beckerman played extended minutes Wednesday with the United States national team in its 2-2 draw against Mexico. … Fullback Chris Wingert is expected to miss the match with a groin injury.
•ABOUT SPORTING KC (2-1-1):
Manager Peter Vermes wasn’t thrilled with the way his team played last time out — condemning players’ lack of movement — but the club came away with a 3-2 victory in Colorado. … Matt Besler and Graham Zusi will rejoin the team after competing with the United States national team Wednesday. …Defender Chance Myers will be available for selection after missing the first month of the season with a groin injury.
The two teams have made it no secret they don’t like each other, which should lead to a physical, gritty, hard-nosed match.
•PREDICTION: Sporting KC, 2-1