On a captivating night at Sporting Park in April, Dom Dwyer savored the finest game of his Major League Soccer career as teammates saluted him in front of his locker. An hour earlier, he had scored two goals in a 4-0 victory against Montreal.
It was as unexpected as it was significant. In fact, a man who prides himself on goal celebrations had planned only one that night — his patented backflip — prompting a reporter to ask if he was unprepared for his first multigoal game in the MLS.
“Maybe I’ll have another chance,” Dwyer quipped.
Across the Sporting Kansas City locker room, a player appreciative of Dwyer’s determination delivered a more enthusiastic response.
“It’s amazing,” captain Matt Besler said. “Especially when you think of how far he’s come in a short period.”
His teammates know only half the story.
Seven years ago, after he broke his foot three times in half a season, a doctor told Dwyer he would never play soccer again.
The drive to prove otherwise led Dwyer to the United States and eventually Kansas City, where he has tied Preki’s franchise record with 18 goals this season. He can establish a new mark Friday, when Sporting KC travels to play Chivas USA.
The league’s second-best goal scorer is on a rapid — if not unprecedented — ascendance.
It was last March that coach Peter Vermes summoned Dwyer into his office and informed him that he had been shipped to Orlando City SC of the USL Pro, the club’s unofficial minor-league affiliate.
“He basically told me, if you don’t go to Orlando and kill it down there, what makes me think you will kill it up here?” Dwyer said.
“If I didn’t go down there and score goals, I would be cut,” Dwyer said.
When Dwyer was 13 years old, a youth coach told him he was destined to be a millionaire — so long as he never strayed from his affinity for scoring goals.
Dwyer spent most of his youth soccer days at the Norwich City FC Academy in England, where he grew up dreaming of playing in the English Premier League.
A foot injury derailed those plans.
Dwyer broke the fourth and fifth metatarsal bones in his right foot when he was 17. It cost him six weeks.
In his first game back from the injury, Dwyer broke the fifth metatarsal a second time. He sat out four more weeks. In his next game, he broke the bone a third time. This one required surgery.
And the news was worse.
The surgeon advised Dwyer to stop playing soccer, insisting the bone would be a persistent problem if he ignored the orders.
“I was crushed,” Dwyer said. “But I’m very stubborn, so I didn’t believe it. I told him I would prove him wrong.”
English clubs sided with the doctors. After they initially showed interest in offering Dwyer trial opportunities, they backed off.
He had only one offer to continue his soccer career — Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas.
“Nobody else wanted me,” Dwyer said. “So you know what? (Expletive) it. I jumped at it.”
Dwyer spent two years at Tyler and won two national championships. He was named the NJCAA National Player of the Year in 2010 after scoring 37 goals.
He transferred to South Florida in 2011 and scored 16 goals in 21 games.
Sporting KC took a flyer on him with the 16th pick of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. His dreams of becoming a professional soccer player had been realized.
And a path home to England was back on the table.
Preki sat on his living room couch Saturday and flipped on his TV. The two-time MLS scoring champion lives in California and coaches the Sacramento Republic FC, which has qualified for the USL Pro postseason.
He’s better known for his playing days.
Preki spent nine years with the Kansas City Wizards, twice winning the MLS MVP award. He scored 18 goals in 1996, the league’s inaugural season.
That mark has stood as the franchise record for 18 years.
With Preki watching from his living room, Dwyer equaled the record Saturday in New York. He held up one finger on each hand to represent No. 11, the jersey number Preki wore with the Wizards.
“He’s a guy who works very hard every roll of the ball,” Preki said. “When you do that, you’ll be successful. I’ve given him a lot of credit. He took his chance and ran with it.”
His chance came after a long wait.
After arriving in Kansas City with high expectations, Dwyer played only four minutes his rookie season.
The playing time was equally scarce in 2013, so Vermes made the move to loan Dwyer to Orlando City SC for the first half of the season.
Dwyer saw it as a demotion, but it was also an opportunity.
He scored 15 goals in 13 matches in Orlando, including four in the club’s 7-4 win in the USL Pro Championship match.
When he rejoined Sporting KC for its regular-season stretch run, he was no longer buried on the bench. He appeared in 17 of the final 19 regular season matches.
He netted the game-winning goal against Houston in the Eastern Conference finals, a match that sent Sporting KC to the MLS Cup.
The momentum carried into 2014.
Dwyer leads the team in goals, shots and shots on goal — all by significant margins.
“I felt like I was waiting for two years to do this,” Dwyer said. “Maybe I wasn’t ready then or mature enough then. I think I have improved as a player. The guys start believing in you and want to give you the ball. It’s been great. I’m enjoying myself.”
Dwyer says he no longer dreams of returning to England to play soccer. He’s found a home in Kansas City. He even mentioned the possibility of representing the United States on the world stage.
He can earn U.S. citizenship in three years.
A day before every home game, Dwyer and teammate, best friend and roommate Soony Saad treat themselves to dinner at a Country Club Plaza restaurant and then head to a movie.
“It’s just a chance for us to get away from everything and relax,” Saad said.
The latter is becoming more difficult. Dwyer and Saad rarely make it through a movie without being recognized by fellow moviegoers.
Scoring goals has a way of revealing the previously unrecognizable.
On a recent trip home from practice, Dwyer made five stops while running errands. He was approached by fans at each stop.
It probably doesn’t hurt that his license plate reads, “DWY3R.”
“He likes the glamour and the flashy side of it,” Saad said. “He loves to interact with his fans.”
Dwyer is becoming a household name for his play on the field, but he’s equally acknowledged for his vibrant personality. He has 28,000 followers on Twitter, and he interacts with them daily.
After Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake played to a scoreless draw in April, Dwyer got into a Twitter tiff with Real Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando.
Dwyer parades a spirited temperament on the field, too.
To celebrate a goal against Chicago in July, he swiped a phone from a cameraman, put his arm around Saad and snapped a selfie. The incident drew national coverage.
He says his outgoing side is a sign of a rapidly growing confidence.
So is this: Dwyer wrote down a list of his objectives before the season. Among them is a target number for goals scored.
The number exceeds Preki’s record. As for the exact figure? He’s keeping that a secret.
“All I’ll tell you,” Dwyer said. “is I haven’t gotten there yet.
“But I will.”
SPORTING KANSAS CITY AT CHIVAS USA
WHEN/WHERE: 9:30 p.m. Friday; at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
TV/RADIO: KCMI (Ch. 38); WHB (810 AM), La Gran D (1340 AM)
ABOUT SPORTING KC (12-10-6): While it produced an improved effort last weekend in New York, the club couldn’t avoid its first four-game losing streak since May 2011. Sporting KC has allowed 11 goals over the four matches.
ABOUT CHIVAS USA (6-15-6): Think Sporting Kansas City is on an extended losing streak? Well, Chivas USA has not won a match since July 12, a span of nine games. The club has allowed 10 goals over its past three losses.
BOTTOM LINE: Sporting KC couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to end its losing streak. It needs to get off to a good start.
PREDICTION: Sporting KC 3, Chivas USA 1