Photo gallery: Thierry Henry and breaking records - King’s Lynn-raised frontman Dom Dwyer on his MLS dream
- Credit: Archant
King's Lynn-raised striker Dom Dwyer is making a name for himself in America. Sports reporter GAVIN CANEY catches up on his life across the Atlantic.
As a teenager Dom Dwyer could only dream of being a professional footballer while watching YouTube highlight reels of Thierry Henry.
Little did he know then that those hopes, forged in his King's Lynn bedroom, would become a reality just years later. Because not only is the 22-year-old now earning a full-time wage from the game he loves in America. But he has also rubbed shoulders with his hero.
Dwyer, on loan at Orlando City, played against the Arsenal legend when his Major League Soccer (MLS) Sporting Kansas City side faced Henry's New York Red Bulls. And the down-to-earth striker still can't believe he's graced the same pitch as the iconic Frenchman.
'I honestly had planned to come back to England after college and university but I just got offered a good contract and I decided to stay out here and see where it took me,' said the Norfolk-raised frontman.
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'The lifestyle here is fantastic, the weather is amazing and I've played against some of the best players about. I've played against Thierry Henry, which was pretty amazing. Being on the same pitch as him and talking to him in the tunnel after the game, it's still a bit surreal when I think about it. I used to watch him score goals before I played and he's my hero. I wear the number 14 (Kansas squad number) because of him. I never ever thought I'd get the chance to play against him.'
While one of the Premier League's greatest-ever imports is winding down his phenomenal career at America's top-level, the English export's life as a pro is only just beginning.
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His path to the MLS started in Sussex and accelerated when he arrived in Norfolk a couple of years before his 11th birthday. After moving up to Lynn's Springwood High School, the Liverpool fan quickly showed off his array of talents in the sporting arena.
He was a good rugby player, a fine cricketer and an excellent sprinter. But it was the beautiful game where he excelled most spending time with Norwich City as a teenager.
Like much of West Norfolk's top talent he also joined the King's Lynn Community Football scheme where he soon stepped into further education, coaching and elite football at the College of West Anglia after finishing secondary school.
Despite his tender years, Dwyer flourished at King's Lynn, now reformed as King's Lynn Town, in their reserve side. He had short spells with the club's first team – where he found the net during Keith Webb's managerial reign – and London-based Staines.
But when the chance came to follow the success of former Linnets' youngsters Mark Heath-Preston and Tom White across the Atlantic, the powerful hitman made a decision that changed his football career forever.
He took up a soccer scholarship along with friends Kyle Nicholls and Joe Setchell at Tyler Junior College in Texas. A huge 52 goals in 42 games, plus 10 assists, followed which helped his team win back-to-back national championships. As the individual awards, and plaudits, kept stacking up, Dwyer moved onto the University of South Florida where another successful season saw him asked to attend the MLS combine.
The event is a chance for top university players to showcase themselves in front of professional coaches. And it was an opportunity the English ace grabbed with both hands impressing Sporting KC enough to select him in the MLS Draft.
'It's pretty unbelievable and I won't ever experience anything like it again,' said Dwyer of the draft process – a selection feature of many American sports. 'You're kind of just sitting there with 19 teams that can choose you. You don't know what team you're going to be playing for or where you'll be living, it's pretty crazy. You're also worried about thinking is anybody going to pick me?
'I was told I was going to be picked at number three, then number seven, then 10, then 12, 14 and 15. I was kind of waiting and all these numbers kept passing on by and I was getting more worried. It was unbelievable to get picked in the end. I'd spoken to almost every team before the draft, except Kansas, which made it even more of a surprise.'
The frontman – nicknamed British Bulldog in honour of powerful and popular professional wrestler Davey Boy Smith from Lancashire who made a name for himself in America – had gone from being a student to a pro overnight.
To make things sweeter, he was also chosen as a Generation Adidas athlete, a joint venture between the MLS and US Soccer aimed at raising the level of young talent in the country. The program, formerly called Project-40, has helped turn players like Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Freddy Adu and Brad Guzan into household names.
However, even though he has a verified Twitter account with almost 5,000 followers, Dwyer's rise to stardom virtually stopped after joining KC. He only made a handful of competitive appearances last term, and played 90 minutes against Premier League Stoke City in a friendly, and spent much of last year in the shadows.
The 22-year-old said: 'Last year was a very frustrating one. I felt great, I was playing well, and I was so hungry after getting picked in the Draft. But I wasn't playing as much as I'd like for the first team. I took a step back and realised it's a waiting game.
'I felt like I should have been playing. I got on a couple of times and I was on the bench but in America it is an 18-man matchday squad from 30 players. I felt like I could help the team but that didn't happen as much as I wanted to. I felt very angry at times but I had to stay calm, stay focused, keep fit and training hard.'
To take his mind off his on-pitch problems during his first professional season, the pacy attacker created a sleeve of tattoos with a variety of pieces on it – which now adorn his upper body. Leo the Lion, the London skyline, the date he signed his professional contract in Roman numerals (XII-I-MMXII), the number 14 – which he has worn from college to Kansas, although he now wears number nine at Orlando – and various other parts for his family. Across the top of his shoulder is probably the most important part of the ink work. Scribed in Latin is the phrase: 'Tell me I can't, I'll show you I can.'
But while his life was going well off the pitch his footballing anger only continued to increase, especially during this January. Having trained with St Mirren at the end of the MLS season, Dwyer's impending loan move to the Scottish Premier League was blocked. While fellow striker Kei Kamara was heading abroad to Norwich City on a short-term deal in the same month, his KC team-mate was being sent America to Orlando City on a season-long loan.
The USL Pro outfit play in the third-tier of American football, England's equivalent of League One. And Dwyer has wasted no time in showing that he's arguably too good for that level. The frontman has already bagged an Orlando season-best record of 13 league goals in just 11 matches and looks well on the way to getting his career back on track.
'It's just been nice to be playing again and it's very cool to be around some of my friends,' said the striker, who is now level with FC New York's Jhonny Artega's all-time USL Pro record.
'My best friend Kyle (Nicholls, went to Florida University with Dwyer after also leaving Texas) is here so I get to see him a lot. It's good as it helps relax my mind. When you have a day off you can't do too much so I play a lot of golf. That's my new hobby as it's not too strenuous. Sometimes I go to the beach and hang out with friends, anything really to relax and take my mind off thinking about football.
'As much as I love it, if you think about it 24/7 it can drive you crazy. I have to eat healthy, make the right decisions, but I still have to live my life. I wanted to be playing more football so I feel great. I was not happy last year, I was very frustrated. I'm taking a lot of that out now which is helping Orlando (currently top of the table).
'I just want us to win the league and after that the play-offs. I've got a few personal goals I've set myself. I'm on a good run so I definitely fancy breaking the league record. We will see. I'm just confident though and enjoying my football again. We have a deep squad at Kansas but I am a goalscorer. Wherever I go I feel I can score goals. Whether that's back at Kansas next season or elsewhere, that's not my decision. We'll have to see what opportunities arise.'
Whether he goes onto to be as successful next term back in the MLS with Kansas, still managed by Peter Vermes as they were when Dwyer joined the club, only time will tell. But one thing is for certain. The level-headed Lynn lad definitely wants to return back home to play football in England sooner rather than later.
Given the choice of soaking up the sun in Florida or running out on a cold winter's night at a Championship or League One ground, Dwyer insists there is only one place he'd rather be. 'I love the passion in England. The fans are great. It's not the same here as it is at home. It doesn't have the same vibe as getting up on a Saturday morning in England, watching Soccer AM, and then going off to play,' he added.
'I'm very confident I will play in England again at some point. I aim to go on loan around Christmas (this year) during the American off-season. I've lived here since 2008 but I'm still very English. I've got a lot of friends here who are English who make sure that if I rarely say soccer they correct me. It's football.
'We have had to alter how we talk a little bit though because if we didn't people wouldn't have a clue what we're talking about. But we're staying very true to our English roots. It was all a bit crazy to start with (after the Draft) as I got everything at once.
'I came from studying on no money and with no job and was then put on more than I expected to be earning. I was paid very differently to what I had been and I had to take it in the right way. Everything kind of quietened down for a while but it's started to pick up again now I'm scoring and getting headlines so it's getting a bit crazy again.'
Who knows what the next exciting chapter will be in Dwyer's success story? However, you get the feeling it could be a little closer to home than it is right now.
- To read Dom Dwyer's thoughts on former Norwich City loanee Kei Kamara, click on the related link on the right-hand side of this page.