Before Dom Dwyer moved from England to Texas to play soccer on scholarship at Tyler Junior College, doctors had told him his career was over. He should forget about playing pro sports, they said.
"That's not the kind of thing a soccer player wants to hear," Dwyer, now 24, recalls.
A regular injury on his right foot had kept him away from the game for almost one year. He was initially told he'll be out for six weeks, then he broke the same foot again. He returned to play a game, before he broke his foot for a third time.
Every time he went back to the doctors, they told him his foot hadn't healed completely. "When can I get back on the field?"
"Not yet," he heard repeatedly. It was a time of endless waiting, frustration, sitting around on his couch all day, and lifting weights. "I wasn't a good person around then," Dwyer says of how impatient that struggle had made him. "I'm the worst when I'm injured."
But that journey taught him to be prepared to take chances. Like the one he took with Texas, a place he knew nothing about, and only considered at age 17 because it seemed like the last chance to live out his dream of playing professional soccer. He thought he was just going to Tyler to get a free education. He ended up helping his school win two national championships. That journey also made him the Dom Dwyer he is today: Sporting Kansas City's star forward; 2014 MLS season's second highest scorer and a 2014 MLS All-Star.
His run last year — 22 goals — made him more recognized on the streets of Kansas City. He responds to anyone who stops him, even while grocery shopping.
"That's what I was taught growing up," he said. "If someone calls your name, you turn. So I still do that."
But the fandom is completely new to him.
Kansas City gives him a lot of love but Dwyer had to earn it both on and off the field. And it still feels surreal when he looks back at what he's accomplished. When Sporting picked him as the 2012 draft's 16th overall pick, their roster was full of forwards. The rookies weren't getting enough playing time. So Sporting coach Peter Vermes told him he needed to go to Orlando FC—then a third-tier minor league club—to show what he could do. Dwyer felt it was an insult, a demotion.
But Vermes told him that if he couldn't go to Orlando and score a ton of goals, how could he trust him to do the same for Sporting? That made sense to Dwyer.
"I work best when people write me off, when they doubt me. I thrive on that kind of thing," he says.
For his last year of college, Dwyer had transferred to University of South Florida, so going to Orlando was almost like returning home. But that wasn't the case in the locker room. The Orlando coach told Dwyer he would not be getting any special treatment.
The whole experience of playing in the USL Pro league made him realize how good he had it in MLS. In the lower leagues, the players had to fend for themselves more — take care of some of the logistics of their travel, even wash their kits sometimes.
That made Dwyer more determined to prove himself. He scored 15 goals in the first 13 matches, including a hattrick. He scored three more in the U.S. Open Cup. It got him the second chance he needed with Vermes. And Dwyer hasn't looked back since. He calls Kansas City his home.
Yet some old habits remain. Ordering food every day is still a struggle, thanks to his English accent. And he still can't stop saying football. "Soccer is only for when I'm on camera," he says. And that makes for quite a few interesting situations. "I tell people I'm a football player and they're like, "You? NFL? You're so small."
But that doesn't stop him from dreaming about representing the stars and stripes.
"If my phone was to ring some day," he said, "it'll be an absolute honor."