Sporting Kansas City and Orlando City: A Rivalry Under the Radar

Major League Soccer kicks off what is known as #RivalryWeek, which celebrates the “coincidence” in scheduling that allows teams to face off against their bitter foes. Portland Timbers welcome the Vancouver Whitecaps to Providence Park, Great Lake Rivals Toronto FC and Columbus Crew SC clash, D.C. United travel to Chester to meet the Union to discuss whether or not they truly are enemies of the worst nature, California splits in two, and New York continues the ongoing fight from last year to determine what color throw pillows the city will buy for their couches or something.

There is, however, a matchup that doesn’t get the recognition of a true rivalry nationwide…but it should.

In 2013, Sporting Kansas City reached a deal with Orlando City SC, at the time a USL Pro club. OCSC was to be used as an affiliate where SKC players could go to gain or regain match fitness. Some of the individuals that were loaned out from Kansas City were C.J. Sapong, Christian Duke, and Kevin Ellis.

…and Dom Dwyer.

The relationship between the clubs proved beneficial, as Sapong was able to regain his form after his other half, Kei Kamara, left for Norwich City. Others like Ellis and Yann Songo’o were never able to find the potential Sporting saw in them.

Dominic Dwyer, in this time period, was able to prove to both Orlando and Kansas City he was MLS material and more. In 2012, Dwyer made only three appearances for SKC in multiple competitions, yet failed to impress coach Peter Vermes. He was then shipped to OCSC for 2013, where he was able to find his footing. He scored 18 goals in 13 competitive appearances for the USL side, including four braces and a hat trick. OCSC saw ten wins, one loss, and two draws in USL play, and two wins in the US Open Cup with Dwyer up front from the beginning of the year to mid-June (Dwyer also scored in a friendly against Brazilian side Fluminense during preseason play). The team seemed unstoppable.

Dom Dwyer first showed promise for Orlando City's USL side. 

Dom Dwyer first showed promise for Orlando City's USL side. 

Early June, the drawings are announced for the fourth round of the US Open Cup. The two teams are paired together. A dilemma brews.

In 2012, Sporting Kansas City dominated MLS. Coming up three points shy of the Supporters Shield and eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, Sporting walked away from the year with a CONCACAF Champions League qualification because of winning one trophy, the US Open Cup. In 2013, the team had begun the season winning 6, losing 5, and drawing 4 – a far cry from the previous year’s 8 game winning streak to start the season, but respectable none the less. They began their 2013 trophy defense by trouncing the Des Moines Menace 2-0, looking to repeat as the Seattle Sounders did prior to SKC knocking them down.

Sporting has questions to answer. Dom Dwyer is on a red hot run coming into this game, and the team itself has shown its capability of felling bigger opponents – one of the team’s wins, and one of Dwyer’s braces, came at the expense of the Colorado Rapids the week prior to the Kansas matchup. Dom is, by extension, cup-tied to Orlando City. However, SKC owns the rights to Dwyer, and Vermes has the option to sit him according to the loan agreement should the teams face each other. From the fans’ perspective, pulling Dwyer would be seen as an unsporting move that would offer SKC a competitive advantage. From Vermes’ point of view, winning is what matters, and losing to his own reserve players would be seen as quite the embarrassment. The choice, though unpopular, is clear. Dwyer and the rest of the loaned Kansas players are forced off the Lions’ lineup.

Wednesday arrives. Dwyer and company are left in Orlando as the team travels to Sporting Park. But to Peter Vermes’ chagrin, the Lions held strong and snuffed out the team in blue. A goal by Long Tan (seriously) is all it took to topple the team that handcuffed their foe. OCSC returned home accomplishing a goliath feat, and possibly the most important match in their short history.

June 26th, Orlando was beaten by Chicago Fire, eliminated from the US Open Cup. The following day, Vermes rescinds the loan of Dwyer and suits him in Kansas City blue. He left the USL with 15 goals scored in the league (21 overall) with 6 regular season matches left to play. He won the USL Golden Boot, but was unable to celebrate with his former team. Orlando City finished 2nd in their respective table, shy one point from the Commissioner’s Cup winners Richmond Kickers. In the playoffs, the team demolished their opponents (5-0, 3-2, 7-4) on their way to win the USL Pro Championship. Dwyer, again, was unable to celebrate. However, with Kansas City, Dwyer was able to appear in 16 matches both domestically and continentally, including a start in the MLS Cup Final, but only scoring twice in that span. Regardless, the team took home the trophy after penalties. Dwyer celebrated.

2015, Orlando City SC is moved to MLS. Dwyer still plays for SKC, and netted another 22 goals the season after winning the title. Sporting is poised to pick up a third US Open Cup trophy. And in June, Adrian Heath reaches out to the public…

["We’ve tried to get him here. We’ve done everything we can. Unfortunately, we can’t do it yet. But we will keep trying. I think this is his spiritual home. He wants to come back. We’d love to have him. But we’ll have to wait and see how long it takes before we can do it."]

To say that Heath and Vermes may dislike each other is a fair assumption. Regarding the issue in 2013 and the popularity of Dwyer in Florida, it comes as no surprise that public discussions about another coach’s player would only cast fuel to an already burning fire. Vermes reacted predictably, calling into question Heath’s professionalism as such a statement could cause a rift in the Kansas City locker room. “When the comment comes out that they're calling us all the time, and all these things, that's not true."

When the two teams finally met in September, Dwyer was active, firing off three shots, two on goal, but failed to find the net before being sent off in the 87th minute for violent conduct. On the other side, Aurellien Collin, a former SKC defender, Kansas City fan favorite, and Orlando City expansion draft pick, was tasked to fend off the Sporting attack. The Lions were successful and managed to finish off their now equals 3-1. The match started and ended rather tamely, nothing one would expect of a rivalry, because it isn’t.

Given the links these two teams have, and the incidents that preceded their first MLS regular season encounter, fans should have expected a heated, bitter matchup marked on everyone’s calendars. The rivalry itself still could happen. Even though the teams will only see each other once a year, the bonds that hold them as enemies can be used as the ingredients to spark what could truly be a spectacular feud down the road. The two teams have already clashed this year – last weekend in fact, the week before Rivalry week – and Dom Dwyer managed to score against his former club; the irony of course, is that he was never truly a Lion.

Dwyer scored to level the match against Orlando City earlier this month. 

Dwyer scored to level the match against Orlando City earlier this month. 

The clubs will meet again. Will they rekindle the conflicts and create a memorable fight fans can boast about for decades to come? Will the headlines of years gone by be remembered in favor over derbies that are chosen for them? Will players look forward to the day they battle one another in blue and purple?

They should.