It’s been a few weeks of conflicting emotions for USMNT fans. Which I suppose is a slight improvement on just total dread, sorrow, and Cure makeup, the usual state in which we find ourselves. Take our victories where we can find them, I guess.
The U-23’s third straight failure to qualify for the Olympics exposed a lack of depth, management, and progress that is all too familiar to anyone who follows the program. It could be rightly pointed out that most of what would be the best U-23 team is already on the full squad and wouldn’t be released for that qualification tournament by their clubs anyway, but that only goes so far. And the number of teenagers and those just out of being teenagers are already flooding the top team doesn’t speak too well of what was there before.
On the other hand, no one could watch Christian Pulisic and Sergino Dest rain down the left side of the U.S. attack against Northern Ireland and not dream of actual, tangible glory in the not too distant future. The commitment of Yunus Musah to the national team was just another bullet point on that list, as well as the contributions that Americans are making at European clubs (and big ones!) every week. We’re being torn in various directions.
Still, any USMNT fan will tell you that the black hole with the team, and the black hole that has been there for pretty much its entire existence, is a true center forward. A player who can convert chances at an acceptable rate, and who might just provide a goal out of nothing simply be existing. A pivot point. A true game-breaker. Someone who can take the work of Pulisic and Dest and Gio Reyna and Musah and Wes McKennie et al from possibility to results.
Daryl Dike is the latest contestant.
You might have seen his name bubbling on Twitter today, as he bagged another two goals for Barnsley in the English Championship (the second division). But you might not yet know Dike (and it’s pronounced “DEE-kay”). That’s ok (it rhymes!). There wasn’t all that much to know. Before his move to England, he only had one cap in the January friendly with T&T. Other than that, he only had one goodish season in MLS, where he netted eight goals in 17 games for Orlando City. Hey, eight goals at age 19 in MLS is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also not going to get you off the couch and building homemade shrines to him just yet.
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Dike has caught fire in England, though. His two goals this afternoon were his sixth and seventh in just 13 games with the Colliers. This thread from Brian Sciaretta, who is all things U.S. National Team, gives some idea of Dike’s impact:
To sum up, Dike has been an all-action forward for Barnsley. The English Championship is an intensely physical league, played through some pretty grimy fields in some pretty grimy English conditions with defenders who may or may not possess a tire iron on the field. And at just age-20 Dike has handled himself more than adequately. He has been installed as Barnsley’s entire attacking fulcrum.
And since he arrived, the team as a whole have taken off. They’ve won 10 of 14 matches, and have rocketed up the table to be firmly in the playoff places with six games to go. These two things are definitely connected.
There are some huge caveats, of course. One, it’s the English Championship. There’s a lot of exit ramps between scoring against Coventry and crashing home the winner against Italy in a World Cup quarterfinal, which is where our dreams will take us. Second, it’s only 13 games. Lots of strikers can get on a heater for a couple of months.
The second one isn’t as it appears though. Dike’s shooting percentage in Orlando was 26 percent, so his current mark of 31 percent isn’t that far north (and boosted by the brace today). Dike’s numbers of shots and shots on target per game haven’t fluctuated too much between MLS and the Championship. That would lead to a debate about just how different the competition is between the two leagues, but let’s shelve that one.
It’s hard not to be smitten by the raw tools Dike has — the speed, the strength, the instincts for goal. His appearance with the national team against Northern Island was barely more than a cameo, and yet he had a handful of chances and probably should have scored. He was noticeable from the off, in a way other strikers in the set-up just haven’t been. If you’re like me and envisioned him putting John Stones on his ass in 2026 to wrap up a 3-1 win, know you’re not alone and you’re not totally delusional. Just close. The raw materials of a true center forward are there.
And Premier League teams are already taking notice, with rumors of a Big Six club offering Orlando $10 million and Everton supposedly eyeing up a $20 million bid as well (Dike is on loan to Barnsley with a $20 million buy option). That’s if Barnsley don’t get promoted themselves.
We’ve been here before, with dozens of names. Just a few weeks ago, Matthew Hoppe banged in a hat trick for Schalke that had our tails up. He has two goals in 13 games since for an admittedly wretched team. The list of names I could rattle off that I hoped at one time could sharpen the USMNT is almost too painful. Wolff, Razov, Altidore, Johnson, Johansson, Ching, Wood… and that’s only a smattering of broken dreams and false hopes and straight-up boozed-up hail marys. You could do this for days.
It’s too much to put on Dike not even 40 games into his professional career. He’s much more likely to end up on that list than not.
But please don’t.