Saturday marked the true return of Daryl Dike following his run at this summer’s Gold Cup. Yes, he did play 45 minutes against Inter Miami, but this weekend was his first start for Orlando City in two months, and the former Virginia Cavalier absolutely delivered.
Dike scored his first MLS goal since June and topped it off with his second assist of 2021. He also added physical dominance that Orlando doesn’t get from anywhere else. He won just about every one of his duels, was completely dominant in the air, and simply overmatched the Columbus back line. His goal Saturday might’ve been his best with Orlando City. Nobody else on this team can do that, I’d argue nobody else in MLS can do that.
Orlando City’s attack had been stale and needing energy for weeks now. Outside of Nani, nobody was making things happen in the final third. The Lions hadn’t scored more than a single goal in a game the entire month of August, despite playing the likes of Miami and Cincinnati. For all the good Tesho Akindele does, he’s not a killer in front of goal. Dike is.
To put it into context, let’s look at his expected goals (xG) numbers, courtesy of Football Reference. In 372 minutes this season, Dike has 2.3 non-penalty xG compared to 3 goals, so he’s over performing by about a goal. Last year, those numbers were 3.9 xG on 8 goals, almost doubling his expected number. The sample size is still relatively small, but the numbers back up the eye test, which is to say Dike is the elite level finisher Orlando City desperately needs to compete for a trophy.
Compare those numbers to Akindele and the value of Dike’s finishing is multiplied. Tesho has only three goals on 5.5 xG, putting him firmly in the red in terms of xG difference and 12th worst in MLS. Fun fact, Nani is actually second best in this metric, further showing how dangerous the captain is.
Underperforming expected goals is not always a death sentence, but Orlando City doesn’t create enough chances for Tesho’s level of finishing. New York City FC, the third-highest scorers in MLS, has the league’s worst under performer in front of goal in Valentin Castellanos, but the Pigeons also create the most shots per game in the league with 16.6 per 90 minutes. On the other hand, Orlando City creates only 11.8 per 90 — sixth worst in the league and tied with the hapless Houston Dynamo. When you don’t create a lot of chances, finishing is vital. Nani can deliver, but nobody else could, at least not until Saturday when Dike got back into the fold.
It’s important to note that Dike can be a streaky, somewhat inconsistent player. In his young career, he’s had scorching hot runs of form and weeks-long goal droughts. The hope for Orlando City is that this weekend’s performance marks the start of a scorcher, giving the Lions another match-winning attacker that all great teams need.