In another day in another time in another sport, Dom Dwyer was Horace Grant or Tracy McGrady or Grant Hill or even Tim Duncan (almost) – star players who perceived Orlando as an exciting, exhilarating destination location.
This was my first thought earlier this week when Orlando City pulled off an earth-shaking, groundbreaking MLS trade that brought Dwyer – one of the top players in the league – back to the City Beautiful where he once played minor-league soccer and emerged as a potential major-league star. The historic deal in which Orlando City sent $1.6 million in allocation money – more than double MLS’s previous record – to Sporting KC sent shock waves throughout MLS.
Blared a headline above a story written by former Sentinel colleague Paul Tenorio on the national soccer website FourFourTwo.com: “Game-changer! Dwyer’s record move opens a new era of MLS megadeals.”
This is not meant as a knock on the Magic’s new basketball boss Jeff Weltman, who is doing the best he can with the tire fire he inherited. But it does go to show that, comparatively speaking, Orlando City is shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue while the Magic are picking through the clearance bin at Bealls Outlet.
I realize the NBA and MLS are two entirely different sports, but Orlando City’s blockbuster deal for Dwyer should be an inspiration to the Magic. It should send a motivational message to Weltman that this city can still be and should be a place where superstar athletes want to play.
I wasn’t here in the early days of the Magic, but I’m imagining Shaq stepping off the plane in Orlando for the first time was similar to Dwyer’s arrival at OIA Tuesday night when he was greeted by hundreds of chanting, singing fans. Dwyer actually ran past his security detail and into outstretched arms of the adoring throng.
“I’m here. I’m home,” Dwyer declared.
“It was a hero’s welcome,” said Charles Tolman, one of those fans who showed up at the airport. “There was love, excitement and familiarity. This is good for the soul of Orlando City fans. Dom’s not only a tremendous player, he’s one of our guys from the old USL days who loved us so much that he wanted to come back.”
Somebody wise once said, “It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home.”
Dwyer may be English by birth, but he’s Orlandoan by choice.
Orlando City CEO Alex Leitão grew up in Brazil and has been a soccer fan his entire life, but he says he has never, ever felt so emotional as when he saw the purple passion at the airport to greet Dwyer.
“Not even when my country [Brazil] won the World Cup did I feel as much pride,” Leitão said. “… I’ve been in this game for a long, long time. I’ve been passionate not only for soccer but for soccer in the U.S. I’ve always believed that one day this game would be massive in the biggest markets in the world, and yesterday I realized I was right. We have soccer in America. What happened in that airport gave me the assurance that everything that we’ve been doing so far … we’re on the right path.”
Give Leitão and Orlando City owner Flávio Augusto da Silva credit for putting Orlando on the international soccer map. They brought instant credibility when they signed Kaká – a global icon – to the richest contract in MLS. And make no mistake about it, Kaká’s mere presence and Orlando City’s rapid and rabid fan growth has turned us into a worldwide soccer hotbed. It’s not just coincidence that Orlando was announced earlier this week as one of the potential North American cities to host World Cup games in 2026.
Even though Orlando City has never really accomplished anything on the pitch or even made the playoffs in the club’s brief three-year history, it has become a hot, young franchise in a hot, young sport that is attracting hot, young players.
“[Orlando City’s reputation] is huge around the league, Dwyer says. “Growing up in England, this is the club that is closest to what the European market is — big crowds and filling the stadium every week. …I’ve dreamed of coming here and now that I’m here, the feeling is amazing.
“The moment I left Orlando, I felt like I left something here. I felt like I had unfinished business. … It’s time to bring a championship to Orlando.”
If that were to happen, Dom Dwyer would be drenched with Dom Perignon.
Here’s hoping the Magic of a long time ago has returned to Orlando sports.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on FM 96.9 and AM 740.