Before I get into this, I need to make one thing clear: Dom Dwyer had a solid 2015.
The Sporting Kansas City forward managed 12 goals and two assists in 30 regular-season games last year and added five more to help SKC to the US Open Cup title. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at.
But it felt like a little bit of a letdown, didn’t it? Last year was fine, but Dwyer wasn’t fantastic like he was in 2014, when he came out of relative obscurity to score 22 goals in 33 regular season matches and bag one more in SKC’s lone playoff game.
Strikers are fickle beasts, and there are plenty of potential reasons why Dwyer couldn’t match his 2014 output in 2015. Maybe it was Krisztian Nemeth’s presence on the wing. Maybe he received some extra attention from opposing defenses after his breakout year. Maybe it was the fact that, unlike in 2014, he didn’t take the majority of Sporting’s penalties. Maybe he just didn’t feel quite right.
That’s all a little immaterial, however. The thing that matters – and the thing that should have SKC fans excited – is that it looks like Dwyer is set up for a huge 2016.
He didn’t score in SKC’s opening day win at Seattle, but the 25-year-old announced himself in a major way on Saturday night. He unleashed a 28-yard howitzer into the top corner to give SKC an early lead and put the finishing touch on a beautiful team move later in the first half to give Sporting a 2-1 home win against Vancouver, keeping the club a perfect 2-0-0 on the season.
The first goal stole all the attention, but I’d bet SKC boss Peter Vermes is more excited about the second. Graham Zusi picked up a Roger Espinoza pass on the left wing, cut in towards goal and clipped a perfect ball to overlapping fullback Chance Myers in the right side of the box. Myers played a perfect one-time cross to the back post, setting up a straightforward – if slightly more difficult than it looked – finish for Dwyer.
Those types of goals are much easier to repeat than the long-distance laser beam from earlier in the night, and they’re the type that SKC need Dwyer to bury all year if they want to move past the Knockout Round for the first time since they won MLS Cup in 2013.
Nemeth is off in Qatar now, as are the 16 goals he scored in all competitions last year. Losing the Hungarian was a blow for SKC, and Dwyer will have to shoulder most of the burden of replacing his production.
He should have plenty of chances. Nemeth was very, very good last year, but he didn’t fit the mold of the traditional SKC winger. He wasn’t looking to beat his man and find a striker in the box; he was looking to beat his man and rip a shot.
Nemeth’s replacements are on the opposite side of the winger spectrum. Justin Mapp and Brad Davis don't score many goals, but they're both excellent at creating chances from wide positions. They’ll provide a lot of service for Dwyer once they get going. Zusi and 2015 Best XI selection Benny Feilhaber – yet to make his season debut – should offer plenty, too.
It might be a bit unrealistic for Dwyer to hit his stated goal of 30 goals this season, but, barring injury, he certainly looks set to end the year a lot closer to 22 than 12.