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BLUMBERG: Evaluating Daryl Dike’s U.S. Men’s National Team prospects

The former Cavalier has had a great start to his professional career, but there is more work to be done

<p>Dike was a bonafide star throughout this two years in Charlottesville, leading the Cavaliers to a College Cup appearance and No. 1 ranking in 2019.&nbsp;</p>

Dike was a bonafide star throughout this two years in Charlottesville, leading the Cavaliers to a College Cup appearance and No. 1 ranking in 2019. 

When looking at a list of Virginia men’s soccer greats, there is no doubt that former striker Daryl Dike ranks high. After leading Virginia men’s soccer to an ACC title and national championship appearance in 2019, the Edmond, Okla. native left Virginia in order to play professionally, forgoing his final two years of college eligibility. Dike’s accolades for the Cavaliers — including being named most outstanding offensive player in the 2019 NCAA tournament — helped him get drafted fifth overall in the 2020 MLS Superdraft by Orlando City SC. 

The goal-scoring machine wasted no time getting his feet wet in the MLS, scoring a goal in his first start for his new club Aug. 22 in a 3-2 defeat to Inter Miami. Only four days later in a match against Nashville SC, he scored two goals to help his team to a 3-1 victory. Racking up three goals and two assists in his first five MLS matches, Dike was subsequently named the MLS Player of the Month for August 2020. Dike’s electric start to his MLS career has both Cavalier and Orlando City SC fans wondering — what are Dike’s chances of getting called up to the United States Men’s National Team?

International football is nothing new to the Dike family. Dike’s older brother, Bright Dike, has played for the Nigerian National Football Team, and his older sister Courtney has played for Nigeria’s women's team, making two appearances in the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Daryl Dike is eligible to play for both the Nigerian and United States national teams but would surely relish the opportunity to represent the U.S., whose national team is desperately in need of youth and inspiration. 

The USMNT has only played one match in 2020 — a 1-0 victory of Costa Rica in February, which gave Manager Gregg Berhalter plenty of time to reassess his roster for its next match against Wales in November. Dike’s five goals and three assists in just 970 minutes for Orlando are a good start — but Dike will need to do more than that to retain Berhalter’s attention. 

In particular, Berhalter and the USMNT currently prefer Columbus Crew starter Gyasi Zardes in the striker position. Notably, Orlando currently sits fourth in the MLS table, one spot behind Zardes’ Crew. While the two sides have yet to play each other this season, a good performance over his national team spot competitor would greatly improve Dike’s chances of garnering Berhalter’s attention. Given that Zardes has become a USMNT regular over the past few years, Dike would need this and a string of impressive performances to get ahead of Zardes in the pecking order. 

Regardless, there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding the USMNT’s schedule, making it difficult to know for sure when Dike’s national team opportunity may come. The United States is scheduled to play in the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup, making this the most realistic goal for Dike to earn a call-up to the squad. However, given the abnormal circumstances of Dike’s first professional season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it would not be unlikely for Berhalter to select someone more experienced players for that tournament. The truth is that it would be risky for the USMNT to let a 20-year-old with only one season under his belt lead the line against some of the world’s best. 

Given this uncertainty, the best Dike can do right now is continue to train hard and do what he does best — score goals. Furthermore, at only 20 years old, there is still plenty for Dike to learn, and lots of time to improve his game. 

Dike has already helped turn Orlando into an MLS playoff contender. In the 2019 season Orlando finished 11th in the Eastern Conference with the third-lowest point total across the entire MLS. Now, just a few months later, Orlando sits comfortable in 4th place in their conference. With so many talented young Americans playing in Europe’s elite leagues, Dike needs to continue to show that he can be the difference for his club in the MLS and convince Berhalter that he can do the same for the USMNT. If Dike stays competitive, stays hungry and keeps scoring goals and it will only be a matter of time before the former Cavalier gets his chance to shine on the international stage.