On January 9, 2020, the Lions selected forward Daryl Dike out of the University of Virginia with the fifth-overall pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft.
Fast forward to 10 months later, the Edmond, Oklahoma native has made his presence felt throughout the league, while also putting his name into the conversation across the international landscape.
One of three finalists for the AT&T MLS Young Player of the Year award, Dike finished the regular-season with eight goals and four assists for the Lions, second only in goal contributions on the City side behind teammate Chris Mueller, turning heads with his impressive and rapid development.
The rookie forward made his professional debut on July 25 at the MLS is Back Tournament, entering the pitch in the 75th minute to help secure a 1-0 shutout victory over the Montreal Impact in the competition’s Round of 16. However, it wasn’t until the next month that his abilities were put on full display.
On August 22 at Inter Miami, Dike recorded his first two professional goal contributions in his first MLS start, scoring in the 18th minute for the Lions before adding a secondary assist on a goal from Nani in the 80th minute of that match.
Four days later, he would go on to net the first brace of his professional career against Nashville SC to become the first rookie in Club history to score in each of his first two professional starts. Finishing out August with three goals and two assists, the Virginia-product earned MLS Player of the Month honors, just the second player in Club history to receive that award.
While many weren’t stunned at the ability that Dike was showing on the pitch, there was some surprise in just how quick it had come to fruition. At just 19 years of age at the time he was drafted, many analysts expected the Virginia product to need some fine-tuning before earning regular minutes in the league, coined as still an “extremely raw” prospect when signing a Generation adidas contract in January.
Couple the raw talent that Dike arrived in Orlando with and the reputation of Oscar Pareja as one of the best coaches in the league when it comes to developing young talent, the rookie has reached the level he is currently playing at today with only more room to grow in time.
“Sometimes with the young players we need to take the responsibility, be patient and wait for the right moment. I don’t think that we have to play them just to play and impress. We need to play them in a situation that is good for them as well and with Daryl we created an important process,” Pareja said of Dike’s integration into his system. “We let him feel comfortable with the competition, work with the players and I feel proud because he understands that this is something that you learn with time. Now he has taken advantage of the situation and the moment.
“Daryl will score goals, and he knows that. I think he’s connecting all these things slowly, but his first characteristic, he’s doing incredible. I think he’s taking the advantage of the opportunities. He’s putting the ball in the back of the net when we need it and that just keeps us very pleased and happy for him.”
As Pareja alluded to, Dike has been critical for the Lions down the stretch, entering the postseason after finding the back of the net in four-consecutive appearances to help secure the Club’s first-ever home playoff match, including a game-winner against the Montreal Impact on Nov. 1.
The impact of the City striker has been ever-apparent, his eight goals the most scored by a rookie since Cyle Larin’s Rookie of the Year campaign in 2015. However, he and the rest of the Lions remain hungry for more.
“I think in terms of my rookie season, I said at the beginning of the year, whether it be goal tallies or assist tallies, obviously I wanted to win the MLS Cup with the team. In terms of personal goals, just kind of keep learning as a player,” Dike said of what’s next for him.
“Keep learning and keep growing as a player. I think every single practice, every single training session, every single day I try to learn from all the players around me and all the coaches around me and try to make myself the best player that I can possibly be. I think that’s the main goal and luckily I’ve been blessed with being placed in a good environment with all the people around me in a great Club to do that."