As you’ve probably heard, earlier this week Orlando City acquired striker Dom Dwyer from Sporting Kansas City in an MLS record deal. We don’t know all of the specifics of the deal, and probably never will. We do know that Kansas City will receive $900,000 in allocation money up front ($400,000 in General Allocation Money, $500,000 in Targeted Allocation Money), with the potential for the deal to rise to $1.6 million—nearly triple the previous MLS record—thanks to what Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star described as “easily attainable” incentives. Peter Vermes said he “100% expects” these incentives to be met and that “some may be fulfilled this weekend.”
Most Sporting KC fans were heartbroken when they heard the news. They love Dom. He’s become a fan favorite with his pesky on-field play and entertaining antics. As much as Sporting KC fans have loved him, other fans hated him just as much if not more, which only made him more beloved by the SKC faithful.
It's hard for many Sporting fans to understand why a team in second place in the middle of a playoff hunt would trade their best striker. Heck, some (not I) would even argue that Dom is Sporting KC’s best player. And when you look at the surface level numbers, you can understand why. He’s scored 57 goals for the club since being drafted in 2013, including the game winner in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals that sent SKC onto the MLS Cup championship. (We all remember how that turned out.) He set the club single-season scoring record at 22 goals in 2014.
For all those reasons, many Orlando City fans are thrilled with the trade. Look how many showed up to greet Dom at the airport on Tuesday night?
The club has been promoting the heck out of the trade with their #WelcomeHomeDom campaign, which it’s anything but if we’re being honest. Taking a look at Dom’s career as a whole, his stint in Orlando was the equivalent of spending a semester abroad during college. To claim that Orlando is or was "home" is beyond a normal level of reaching for marketing purposes. But I digress.
The thing about fans is that they generally can’t look past their emotional reaction to see a situation from an objective point of view. Many Sporting KC fans have lashed out at the club for trading Dwyer. As seen in the picture above, tons of Orlando City fans are thrilled to have Dwyer in purple and gold. They’re all missing something very important.
Orlando will regret this trade for Dom Dwyer.
We won’t be able to know this for sure for at least a couple years, but $1.6M in allocation money is a massive amount of money for a 27-year-old striker who had his best season three years ago and hasn’t found that form since. In about four full seasons of MLS play, Dom has 39% of his career in 2014 when he scored 22 goals. He had 12 goals in 2015, 16 in 2016 and only five so far in 2017. Dwyer is trending in the wrong direction for a player acquired for so much money.
Let’s look at Dom Dwyer v. Will Bruin, a player who most fans would consider an average-at-best MLS striker. Dwyer and Bruin both have 57 career goals and are both 27 years old, although Bruin has played about 3,800 more minutes in his career. When looking at both players goals per 90 minutes rate (g/p90), Dwyer has a .51 g/p90 compared to Bruin’s .37 g/p90. Extrapolate that out to a full MLS season, and Dwyer is getting you less than five more goals per year than Bruin. We don’t know how much Seattle spent to acquire Bruin since that transaction took place just before MLS made allocation dollars public, but you can bet it wasn’t more than $200k at the absolute most. Is less than five goals per season worth at least $1.4M more in transfer funds? Context matters, but in Orlando City’s case I don’t think so, especially considering Dom is getting older and can’t replicate his 2014 form, so that g/p90 ratio will continue to drop.
I’m not alone on this opinion either. Look at what one MLS GM said when he first heard of the deal, per Four Four Two’s Paul Tenorio.
Just filed story on Dwyer trade. While we wait, I'll share my fav text from today, when I told one MLS GM the deets of the deal: "F*ck me."— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) July 25, 2017
Why would an MLS GM have such a strong reaction? Because he knows that this will change the player acquisition landscape in MLS from here on out. Orlando just raised the bar for how much players are worth. If Dom Dwyer is worth $1.6M in allocation money, players like Bruin who may have been worth $200k are suddenly worth as much as two or three times that amount. Player acquisition just got a lot more expensive for teams around the league.
Let’s take a closer look at what the Dwyer signing means for Orlando City.
First, they’ve likely used up nearly all of their allocation funds. Sure, they had sold Kevin Molino to MNUFC just last winter for the previous MLS record of $650,000 in allocation funds, but that means they still needed to add nearly another $1M of their own.
Second, it’s widely expected that Orlando City will sell striker Cyle Larin in the very near future. Recent reports have him linked to Turkish side Besiktas, with some saying a transfer is nearing completion. Let’s say they sell him for $3M. Right off the bat, MLS takes one-third of the fee, so Orlando only gets $2M of the sale. Additionally, per MLS transfer rules, Orlando City would only be able to use a maximum $650,000 of that $2M as allocation funds for roster improvement, so they’d still come up $1M short of the funds spent on Dom.
Assuming OCSC does sell Cyle Larin, is Dom really a suitable long-term replacement for him? Dwyer is five years older than Larin, and his .51 g/p90 is less than Larin’s .60 g/p90. Dom very likely has hit his ceiling when it comes to player improvement, while Larin likely has much more room to grow. That impressive .60 g/p90 rate could rise dramatically.
Third, Orlando City’s goal differential is not good. If Orlando City does move Larin soon, then they’ve likely blown all their money on an older, slightly worse striker to replace him. That’s not going to help improve their -8 goal differential. Best case, it will help them remain at status quo. $1.6M is not what you want to spend to stay a mid-level team that might miss the playoffs. That money would be much better spent on finding a talented young striker to take Larin’s place while also finding creative wingers to serve the ball. Orlando’s assist leader is Carlos Rivas, who only has five assists all year.
Orlando’s defense isn’t great, either. They are in the mid-bottom part of MLS in terms of expected goals against. What that means is they have a leaky defense and an offense that can't score consistently. Combine all this with the fact that Kaka—who is already the league’s highest paid player at nearly $7.2M in guaranteed compensation—wants to extend his contract, there isn’t much money left for Orlando City to actually improve.
Where does this all leave Orlando City in the foreseeable future? They’ve likely spent most, if not all, of their player acquisition money on a pretty good striker who will require a significant raise to extend his contract but won’t actually improve your team. They won’t be able to spend money to get the necessary pieces around Dom to fix the teams many issues on both sides of the ball. They’ll stay mid-table, occasionally pushing for a knockout round playoff spot but rarely, if ever, making it past the conference semi-finals.
Orlando fans won’t like this, and Sporting KC fans will want to jump to Dom’s defense, but the numbers are what they are. This is a bad move for Orlando from a financial standpoint that could set the club back for a long time.