For Orlando City rookie Daryl Dike, Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over KR Reykjavik was a milestone. It was the 19-year-old striker’s first time playing in front of the Exploria Stadium faithful, as he lined up alongside the likes of Nani, Uri Rosell, and other experienced professionals.
The first thing Dike had to combat — before KR Reykjavik’s back line — was a bit of nervousness.
“Nerves are natural playing in front of a whole bunch of fans. So, I was definitely nervous,” he said.”
The rookie forward said that coaches and players told him prior to going out that he should relax and simply treat it like any other soccer game, and he said that helped him to settle in a bit.
Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game that he liked the way Dike was able to connect some passes with his teammates in the final third. He also used his size well to hold up play. But what fans want to see from strikers is scoring. Dike didn’t do that, but he did attack the ball well in the air and if not for some last-second defending, might have put a header in the back of the net.
Pareja seemed pleased to get his top draft pick on the field to see what he could do in that environment and pointed out that due to Dike’s size — he’s 6-foot-2 with a big, strong frame that makes him look physically imposing compared to other players on the pitch — people often forget he still hasn’t even reached age 20. The first-year Orlando City coach said he liked the way Dike showed a hunger to score goals, particularly on some of the crosses sent in by Joao Moutinho early in the game.
“I think I did all right,” Dike said of his performance. “Joao — I know every time he gets the ball, I know he’s going to serve a fantastic ball, so I tried to put myself in the best positions I can to be on the end of those crosses. I think I played all right and I hope to continue to keep progressing every single game.”
Dike said that he has learned quite a bit from team captain Nani both on and off the pitch since joining the Lions.
“You learn a lot from him — just from this game, there’s other games, there’s training, there’s just sitting in the locker room and talking to him. You learn so much from him because obviously he has a lot of experience with the game,” Dike said. “You learn his movements, you learn how to act on the field — and not even just as a player, like, as a person outside of playing. How to eat, how to do everything. He’s a good role model to have. He always talks and he’s always in my ear and it’s fantastic to have someone like that.”
Although he didn’t score in the game, he was able to show some good signs. It was a good first runout at Exploria Stadium for Dike, who gave himself a positive assessment after his first home game.
“I think obviously it was great to get the win. I mean, for me personally it was just the difference because obviously it was probably one of my first games playing with professional players,” said the University of Virginia product after Tuesday’s match. “I’ve been training hard and for the other preseason games I’ve got some good minutes in, but it was my first experience actually playing like a full game in the stadium with fans and everything and it was great. I mean, I’m super happy to be obviously playing in front of everybody and playing alongside my teammates as well, and to have the coach, you know, give me a chance. It was great.”