Daryl Dike has had to wait for the chance to make his debut with the United States Men’s National Team. While he was called into camp for the USMNT’s friendly against El Salvador last month, he picked up an injury and was unavailable for the match. It was a shame for a couple of reasons. First, he had an excellent rookie season and deserved to prove what he was capable of at the national team level. Aside from that though, he almost surely would have run rampant in a game that saw fellow Lion Chris Mueller set the field on fire in his debut.
As disappointing as it surely was for the Orlando City striker, soccer is a funny game, and sometimes things have a way of working out almost perfectly. That may be exactly what happens in Dike’s case, as he was called up again earlier this month and will likely make his national team debut in front of his home fans at Exploria Stadium on Sunday. Needless to say, it’s a prospect that he finds pretty exciting.
When asked during media availability Thursday what his feelings were about making his debut in front of his home fans, the youngster spoke about the added bonus of likely making his national team debut at his club’s home grounds at Exploria Stadium.
“Obviously, you know, it’s an honor to be here. And of course, to be able to have the potential to get the first cap here in Orlando, it’s great,” Dike said. “It means a lot to know we’ll have lots of fans out there you know; the Orlando City fans out there. So, it’ll be good to represent the guys, with Chris (Mueller), Benji (Michel), and Andres (Perea) — the other guys there from Orlando as well.”
That’s another silver lining that Dike seems to think has been helpful for him so far — the presence of three fellow Orlando City teammates on the roster. Mueller, Perea and Michel are all on the team, with Mueller and Perea receiving their second call-ups after being with the senior team back in December (although Perea did not play against El Salvador while awaiting FIFA approval to change his national team association). Dike said that having four players in camp who are familiar with each other has helped them all raise their game during training.
“I think it’s great because we all know what each other are capable of,” Dike said. “We know when we go into training that you’ve seen each other play every single day, so we know that we hold each other to a higher expectation...you can focus a little harder, you hold yourself to a higher standard because you have these familiar faces around you and they push you to get better.”
Whether or not Dike will get the start on Sunday against Trinidad and Tobago remains to be seen. Against El Salvador Gregg Berhalter deployed a 4-3-3, playing Ayo Akinola at striker with traditional wingers Mueller and Paul Arriola out wide. If he goes with a similar tactic against T&T, then veteran Jozy Altidore could well end up leading the line. On the other hand, Berhalter may want to get a long look at what the young striker is capable of outside of training situations. It will likely boil down to whether the coach is more interested in assessing what Altidore can still provide, or getting a better look at someone who’s still an unknown quantity at the international level.
As for Altidore, Dike said he’s been soaking up information from watching the veteran USMNT striker.
“It’s truly a blessing being able to work with someone like (Altidore), obviously,” he said. “Phenomenal career, tons and tons of experience, and it’s great because him and I, you know, we play similarly, so he always has tips he always takes time out of his training session or out of his day to go and tell me, ‘hey I think you can try this.’ Or he’s always giving advice. He can critique me sometimes and I think it’s really good to have someone like that who’s been through it all to be there to give you advice at all times.”
With Jesus Ferreira and Jonathan Lewis both fitting best under the winger/forward hybrid category, Dike should at least get some time as a substitute as the only other true striker on the roster.
Either way, making his national team debut in the same stadium where he plays his club soccer is probably about as close to a dream come true as it gets for Dike. The only way to top it would likely be if the game was being played in his native state of Oklahoma. If you’re trying to catch the big man’s potential debut, remember that the game is at 7 p.m. on Sunday at Exploria Stadium.