For the first time in their six-year MLS history, Orlando City SC are into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
The news, thanks to a late Pablo Piatti goal in Toronto FC’s 1-0 win over Atlanta United, arose roughly 10 minutes before rookie forward Daryl Dike arrived for his postgame press conference. The Lions had just drawn the New York Red Bulls 1-1 after allowing a 95th-minute equalizer, and he was clearly unsatisfied with just reaching the postseason.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position,” Dike said. “Obviously we just made the playoffs today, but I think we’re going to carry on. The goal wasn’t just playoffs. We’re not done now. We just keep going and keep going. We want three points every single game and we want to finish the highest in the table. That’s the main goal.”
The confidence comes as Dike continues to build a case for the 2020 Rookie of the Year award, with New England Revolution center back Henry Kessler most often mentioned in those conversations as well. They were teammates last fall as the University of Virginia made the College Cup final, losing in penalty kicks against Georgetown.
Even though Dike didn’t add to his four goals and three assists, Orlando head coach Oscar Pareja was still pleased with the 20-year-old’s evolution.
“Dike today was another demonstration of the way he progresses as a forward,” Pareja said simply. “He looked great today. I’m happy for him.”
Watch: Daryl Dike draws penalty kick against RBNY
Dike’s best moment against RBNY came in the 55th minute when he collected a throw-in, dribbled past several defenders and was eventually hauled down in the 18-yard box by center back Amro Tarek. The referee pointed to the PK spot, and Nani deposited for the 1-0 lead.
The entire sequence revealed what Dike offers Orlando, a No. 5 pick in the 2020 SuperDraft who earned MLS Player of the Month in August. His hold-up play, combination instincts and goal-dangerous abilities are a handful for any opposing defense – and they’re still developing.
“I learned about my team, I learned about other teams,” Dike said, assessing his rookie year. “I learned about what things might work, what things might not work. Each game I kind of take it game by game and that’s the main goal that I do and I make sure of myself. Each game I give it my all and as long as I make sure I’m learning as well from my coaches and teammates, from myself and the other games, I think that’s something that I take away from every single game.”
Dike’s emergence has softened the long-term knee injury to Dom Dwyer, using his pull at center forward to allow Nani and Chris Mueller to thrive in wide areas. It even lets Orlando’s outside backs bomb forward, giving them a dimension that’s tough to handle.
But Dike harps on the team component, and he’s continuing to aim big now as the Lions move to 12 games unbeaten (6W-0L-6D).
“In terms of at the beginning of the year, we said that this club hasn’t made playoffs yet and we told ourselves that we wanted to do more than just make the playoffs,” Dike said. “We wanted to be one of the top teams in the league, we wanted to win the Supporters’ Shield then we wanted to go on and win the MLS Cup.”