This Saturday, Orlando City embarks on a grueling six-day stretch in which it will play three matches, the Club’s most condensed patch of the season. Mid-week games will become a regular occurrence from here on out.
Fear not – the 6-foot-2, 220-pound cavalry is here.
Fresh off an enormously successful loan stint at Barnsley and his first goal for the United States Men’s National Team, 21 year-old forward Daryl Dike is back in Orlando and training with the Lions ahead of an anticipated return to MLS.
“If you told me that all this was gonna happen a year ago, I might have laughed at you,” Dike told us Wednesday at the Orlando Health Training Ground at Osceola Heritage Park, looking back on a whirlwind 12 months.
A year ago, Dike hadn’t played a single professional minute. Since debuting at the MLS is Back Tournament on July 25 of last year, though, Dike has appeared in 46 matches for club and country, scoring 18 goals and helping both Orlando City and Barnsley to historic playoff appearances. Not bad for your rookie year.
“It’s crazy,” Dike said. “I think for me I’m always kind of…I never really knew what was going to happen. Just being able to play for Orlando, get a first national team cap, first goal, loan over to England, so much has happened in such a small [amount of] time.”
Dike quickly became known in Orlando for his power and athleticism, attracting plenty of attention and scoring goals in bunches as a conventional No. 9 in Oscar Pareja’s possession-oriented system, but his move abroad gave him a chance to explore other facets of his game.
“For me it’s the versatility,” Dike said when asked what has changed about his game in his time overseas. “I think, having good coaching staffs and players who have helped me in knowing my role, that’s one of the main things. Being able to adapt to a certain type of game, or a certain type of style, or a certain type of opposition, that’s something I wanted to grow on from the beginning.”
When he moved to Barnsley in February, manager Valerian Ismael made Dike the focal point of a long-ball parade, instructing his players to lump balls forward to the young American at a constant clip, betting that Dike’s overwhelming strength would win out enough to create chances. That bet paid off, as Dike helped the Reds to a 13-3-3 league mark while in the team, bringing them from 12th to fifth in the table.
With the USMNT, Gregg Berhalter has often used his center forward as a false nine, asking his striker to drop into midfield to drag defenders out of position. While Dike has not completely melded into that role with the national team, he has trained within Berhalter’s system and had a hand in each of the first two U.S. goals against Costa Rica on June 9, scoring the second.
“I’m still not as experienced as a lot of people,” Dike reflected. “I’ve only been playing for a year. So that was one thing I wanted to grow on, to challenge myself to be put in different situations and see how I could cope with it and still affect the game.”
His humility, his coachability, and his raw talent have made him a fan favorite and an international sensation in less than a year. Now, Dike will have the chance to show Orlando City fans everything he can do with his new arsenal.