KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Dom Dwyer's smile never wavers, not once. He doesn't look down, or away. But it takes less than a minute for something to become clear: The hardest thing about getting Dom Dwyer to talk about becoming a celebrity is getting him to acknowledge being one.
“I don't really consider myself a celebrity,” Sporting Kansas City's English center forward – he'll be English-American before long, most likely, and we'll get back to that – told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday during the club's preseason media event. “I'm just a footballer. I'm just enjoying myself, and being myself. Luckily, I get to play on a pretty awesome team, and we have a lot of fun, and the fan base is incredible.”
There are plenty of players on successful clubs – Sporting have won one MLS Cup and one US Open Cup since Dwyer arrived as a first-round MLS SuperDraft pick in 2012, and he also won a USL PRO title while on the second of two loan stints with Orlando City SC in 2013 – could say that and mean it. That's especially true of stars such as Dwyer, who shredded Sporting's single-season scoring records in 2014 with 22 league goals and 24 across all competitions.
But their goal celebrations don't spark trans-Atlantic controversy about “How much fun is too much fun,” as Dwyer's instantly-famous selfie did in the English media last season. And their relationships don't merit coverage by People magazine, where Dwyer and US women's national team star Sydney Leroux first revealed last fall that they were dating and then announced their low-key January wedding this past Valentine's Day.
You marry him. pic.twitter.com/S6VBEzUbDS— Sydney Leroux Dwyer (@sydneyleroux) February 15, 2015
Dwyer's not budging, though, even though he and his wife already have been dubbed American soccer's hottest power couple. And even though any mention of his repeatedly-expressed hope to be naturalized and called into the US men's national team camp ahead of the 2018 World Cup is guaranteed to draw hundreds of comments within minutes.
“I don't really feel it,” he said. “It's like I said: I still feel normal, feel myself. I'm just enjoying my life – working very hard for Sporting this year, and just excited to see what happens.”
That's close to self-effacement for Dwyer, who came out of the University of South Florida in 2012 in a flurry of fun-loving, cheeky charm – much of it right up front across a variety of social media platforms especially in tandem with friend and former teammate/roommate/partner-in-hijinks-and-shenanigans Soony Saad.
Saad is gone now, playing on the other side of the world in Thailand, and Dwyer – entering his fourth season as a pro and recently rewarded with a long contract extension – is embracing his new roles as married man, veteran leader and one of the faces of a league that continues to gain fans and attention.
“This offseason, I think Dom's and my relationship has gotten stronger,” manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com, “and I think we understand each other really well. I think he's really focused. At the end of the day, he's a very motivated person. I am as well. And I like to think that our goals from that perspective are very well aligned.”
But if Dwyer is, as he put it in a preseason interview, “a big boy now,” there's still plenty of the boy left in the man.
“If you know him at all, you know he's got a really big personality,” SKC left back Seth Sinovic said. “He's a very confident guy, and I don't mean that in a negative way at all. Forwards need to be confident, and he's a very confident guy. At the same time, he's very thoughtful of everyone around him and does well at bringing everybody in, including everybody in everything.
“He's just a good guy to be around. He has so much energy every single day. It's crazy. It's something we feed off.”
That's the personality type Vermes likes to see in all of his players – not just one whose job description is “put the ball in the net, and then go celebrate without getting carded."
“I look for players that have strong personalities,” Vermes said, “because in times of difficulty – guys that have weak personalities, they break. Guys that have strong personalities, they bend but they come right back. And in this business – I can't talk as the CEO of Sprint, because I don't know that world – but I know that in soccer, you need people like that in your team. And he's one of those guys. And I also like that he pushes the envelope at times, because that's what you need.”
Vermes is no stranger to working with beyond-the-pitch celebrities, either.
When he won MLS Cup as a central defender with the then-Wizards in 2000, he played in front of goalkeeper Tony Meola – he of the off-Broadway acting career and the well-publicized NFL tryout with the New York Jets – and behind Scottish forward Mo Johnston, who not only ignited a sectarian furor when he became the first Roman Catholic player in modern times to jump Glasgow's bitter Auld Firm chasm from Celtic to Rangers, but also hung out with rocker Rod Stewart.
“I think it is easy – whether it's a player or anybody with involvement in notoriety and fame and all that goes with it – you can easily forget why you are famous or have notoriety,” Vermes said. “You can easily forget that. I think he understands it completely. He has to do one thing. He has to perform. But he has the motivation to be really good.
“He's not trying to do this because he wants to be famous. He's doing it because he wants to be really good. He really loves the game, and he wants to be the best. He's had that motivation all the time. When he says that he truly wants to win, that's real.”
And that's the topic Dwyer doesn't mind discussing at length – his hopes and plans for his club's future. Not his success in USL PRO after an initial feeling of being exiled, not his breakout MLS season in 2014, not “The Selfie,” not the celebrity.
He knows there will be talk of such things, of course.
“I don't mind that,” he said. “You know, that's up to you guys. I'm just working hard, enjoying my football and excited about getting going with this team.”
He will talk about his romance and marriage, and the challenges that couples might face when both of them live in the spotlight – but only briefly, and with low-key sincerity.
“You meet someone, and you just click, and you fall in love,” he said. “You get married. It's part of life. She's a wonderful person, and I'm very proud of her achievements and what she does. I'm just excited for the rest of my life – and working hard.”
There's that phrase again, and Dwyer is glad to expand on it.
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“Honestly, I'm just working hard and enjoying myself and doing what I've been doing since I got here in 2012,” he said. “I got here, I had a mission when I first walked down into the stadium, and I haven't completed that yet.”
What's the mission – the winning goal, so to speak – that will complete his career arc?
That, Dwyer won't say. If there's one detail of celebrity he has embraced, even mastered, it's the art of dropping a tantalizing clue and letting it lie.
“It's a secret,” he said with a smile. “Some people know. You'll see.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com