Photo courtesy Orlando City SC
Ahead of the 2016 USL Cup Final, Presented by Nike, we’re taking a look back at the five previous editions of the championship game. Check out the feature story, and remember to tune in this Sunday on ESPNU, the WatchESPN app, or SiriusXM FC 85 as the New York Red Bulls II host the Swope Park Rangers at 8 p.m. ET.
The irony is, Dom Dwyer wasn’t supposed to be part of the 2013 USL Championship Game. In fact, if then-Orlando City SC forward Long Tan hadn’t been sent off in the Lions’ semifinal the week before against the Charleston Battery, the request for Dwyer to return on loan from Sporting Kansas City might never have come.
As it turned out, however, Dwyer’s return to the Florida Citrus Bowl provided one of the most memorable moments in the historic stadium’s history as Orlando took a 7-4 victory against the Charlotte Eagles in front of 20,886 fans in a landmark game for both the Lions and the USL as a whole.
In the first season of the partnership between the USL and Major League Soccer, Dwyer had taken Orlando by storm on loan from SKC. In 13 games he set a USL single-season scoring record with 15 goals before rejoining the MLS side for the second half of the season. With injuries in the squad, and Tan sent off for his second yellow card in a 3-2 victory against Charleston the previous week, though, the request for Dwyer’s services was made, and honored.
After defeating the regular-season champion Richmond Kickers in the semifinals, though, the No. 5-seed Eagles were looking to spring one final surprise, and took the lead in the 20th minute through Fejiro Okiomah, which kicked off a see-saw battle that also saw forward Christian Ramirez take his first major bow on the national stage.
Dwyer gave Orlando the lead with goals nine minutes apart, and it appeared normal service had been resumed for the hosts, only for Ramirez to make it 2-2 a minute after Dwyer’s second as the Lions let their guard down briefly. Ramirez, who had scored eight regular-season goals for the Eagles in his rookie professional season, then made it 3-2 just before the hour-mark as an upset again appeared to be brewing.
Dwyer made sure it didn’t, as he first leveled the score from the penalty spot in the 61st minute before adding his fourth of the game to restore the Lions’ lead eight minutes later. Dennis Chin then made it 5-3 with a goal a minute after Dwyer’s, and Adama Mbengue added a sixth with five minutes to go. Cuitlahuac Meza pulled a goal back for the Eagles, briefly offering a glimmer of hope, but Chin’s second of the night wrapped up the Lions’ second title in three seasons.
The championship would be the first of two for Dwyer in 2013. The English forward returned to Sporting Kansas City and helped the side claim its second MLS Cup, scoring the game-winning goal in the Western Conference Final’s second leg against the Houston Dynamo. With 46 goals in the three seasons since, the 26-year-old has gone from being the poster boy for the USL-MLS partnership, to one of the best-known faces in Major League Soccer.