As the lone forward in his college’s 4-5-1 formation, Dom Dwyer got used to calling the attacking third home and not straying too far afield.
Now, Sporting Kansas City’s first-round SuperDraft pick must take on the end-to-end responsibilities of manager Peter Vermes’ 4-3-3 system – without forgetting why the club chose him out of the University of South Florida in the first place.
“The biggest adjustment is learning the defensive side,” Dwyer told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Monday from Orlando, Fla., where Sporting close out Disney Pro Soccer Classic group play on Wednesday against the Vancouver Whitecaps. “When you’re playing up top by yourself, you don’t do much defending. In the 4-3-3, there’s a lot to do defensively.”
Starting in Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Montreal, Dwyer found himself in the mix at both ends of the pitch, getting off several dangerous shots as well as tracking deep when the expansion Impact had the ball.
“When you track back defensively,” he said, “it shows the coaches you’re ready to help the team any way you can.”
The challenge for the young Englishman, Vermes said afterward, is in knowing when to shift roles.
“I like his activity a lot,” Vermes said, “but he’s still getting the idea of where he fits within our system. Sometimes he checks back into the outside channel in a way that takes away his own space. When we have the ball, he has to be a forward.”
Dwyer has already shown his scoring abilities this preseason with a hat trick against PDL side FC Tucson earlier this month. He’s just as proud, though, of his sliding tackle – in his own penalty area – to break up a Montreal scoring threat on Sunday.
“That’s probably the best tackle I’ve done in my life,” he said. “I’ve never found myself that deep before. I had to put on an extra bit of speed because I knew he was going to get a touch and go for the goal. I just slid in last-ditch and stopped it, and I hoped I wouldn’t get a red. I was a bit fearful of that.”
Being uncertain of anything seems out of character for the confident newcomer, who has already settled into a cheeky camaraderie with his new teammates. But Dwyer is quick to note that he’s here to study under Kansas City’s attacking corps, not just hang out with them.
“I watch the players on our team and try to learn everything I can from them – [Bobby] Convey, [Kei] Kamara, C.J. [Sapong], Teal [Bunbury]. Positionally, they help me out a lot,” he said. “They’re all very experienced players with a lot of quality.”
Then again, Dwyer’s like any other competitor in a team sport: he wants to play, and there are only so many starting spots to go around.
“I don’t want anyone else to do bad,” he said. “I just want to win. If I’m needed to start, on the bench, whatever, I just want to perform well. This team has made me feel welcome, and I want to perform well and pay them back for welcoming me into their family.”
Even if that means denying goals as well as scoring them.
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.