One game into his career with Toronto FC and veteran striker Dom Dwyer says he already has plenty to be thankful for.
The 30-year-old Dwyer became a free agent after a 2020 season with Orlando City SC that saw him sidelined after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in late July to treat a partial patella tendon tear.
Toronto offered him a tryout in training camp, which eventually led to a contract, announced last week, through 2022.
"Honestly it's pretty incredible," Dwyer said when asked about Toronto FC as an organization. "I wouldn't really call it an organization, it's more like a family. I was made to feel very welcome as soon as I arrived on trial. And it's not always like that at football clubs. So I knew I was stepping into something pretty special.
"The club's been amazing to me. Each player's been great. I'm taken care of. And all my worries are on the field. It's very amazing and I'm very grateful."
His appreciation of his new club grew when he tested positive for COVID-19 on the fourth day of his TFC tryout, forcing him to leave the group and self-isolate.
"At that point I thought that my dream was over with Toronto," he said. "But the club stood by me and were unbelievably professional."
He eventually returned to training, regained his fitness and earned a contract. He made his debut off the bench last Saturday in Toronto's 1-1 tie at New York City FC.
Within minutes of coming on the field in the 69th minute, Dwyer had managed to get under NYCFC's skin. Two New York players found themselves on the turf after separate collisions with Dwyer, with one of those incidents coming in the buildup to Jacob Shaffelburg's 74th-minute tying goal.
NYCFC coach Ronny Deila said after the match his team had been "robbed" by the referee.
Dwyer was just doing what he does. Listed at five foot nine and 181 pounds, the English-born forward is a ball of abrasion who approaches soccer with a boxer's mentality. The combative Dwyer has a history of leaving a mark.
Toronto coach Chris Armas likes Dwyer's experience, intensity and "big personality."
"We like guys that have some personality and some bite," Armas said prior to the NYCFC game. "And we think our team could use a dose of Dom, could use a dose of (newly acquired Jamaican international fullback) Kemar Lawrence."
Dwyer and TFC (1-2-2) play at Orlando (2-0-3) on Saturday.
Dwyer has scored 83 career MLS goals, counting regular season and the playoffs, in nine seasons with Sporting Kansas City and Orlando. Consider the fact that Sebastian Giovinco holds the TFC club record for goals in all competitions with 83 (ahead of Jozy Altidore at 76).
He scored 67 goals in all competitions for Sporting Kansas City, with Orlando digging deep into its pocket to acquire him in July 2017. Orlando sent US$400,000 in general allocation money, $500,000 in targeted allocation money as well as up to $700,000 in future allocation money based on Dwyer’s performance.
Orlando also paid Dwyer a handsome salary
According to the MLS Players Association, he made $1.5 million in 2019 and $1.64 million in 2020 (although there were some cuts in salaries and bonuses last year due to the pandemic).
Dwyer won the MLS Cup with Sporting Kansas City in 2013 and is hoping that signing with Toronto will lead him to another title. And in joining Toronto, he gets to sleep in his own bed while the team is in Orlando.
Wife Sydney Leroux, born in Surrey, B.C. to a Canadian mother and American father, is a U.S. international who plays for the NWSL's Orlando Pride. The couple have two young children.
"Like fate a little bit," Dwyer said of joining TFC.
"I'm very excited to get back to Toronto and play at BMO (Field) with the fans, and experience the atmosphere on the home team this time," he said. "I've played there a few times and it's a stadium I'm very fond of. I look forward to banging some goals in there."
Dwyer, who attended the University of South Florida, made his MLS debut in September 2012 against TFC after being taken 16th overall in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft by Kansas City.
Dwyer says he opted for knee surgery against the wishes of Orlando, fearing the partial tear might lead to a full tear if he didn't.
"I had to do what's best for my career." he said.
The injury took about five months of intense rehab to heal. He says the knee is fine now.
"There's a lot of hunger here and desire. I want to repay the faith that the coaches and GM and (Toronto) football club have shown in me by signing me ... I think I have plenty more football in me."
While Dwyer has worn No. 14 for most of his career, it was taken (by Noble Okello) when he signed with Toronto. He chose No. 6 as a homage to the 416 Toronto area code.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press