Daryl Dike took U.S. soccer’s long way to a big European stage, and if his fine form continues, it will only get bigger

As soon as Daryl Dyke finished playing for the Barnsley club team, the critics came. They don’t come from coaches, teammates or social media. It’s more like they’re from the Dike family.

There is brother Bright, a former professional, and sisters Courtney (former Nigeria international), Kimberly and Britney. And his parents, Vincent and Jacinta. The river is almost endless.

I look on my phone after the game and see over 100 messages from my family: You had to do it. You had to do it, Daryl said with a big smile. It’s a big football family. Everyone knows about sports. Everyone pushes me to be better. Everyone wants me to succeed, and these are the people who support me the most.

Given everything that has happened in the last 18 months, it’s understandable that Deichsel wants to keep both feet on the ground. In the fall of 2019, Dyke was an NCAA Men’s College Cup finalist for the University of Virginia. This season he made his MLS debut at Orlando City SC, where he scored eight goals and four assists in 19 league and playoff appearances and was a finalist for the Young Player of the Year award. That experience turned into a loan spell at English club Barnsley and after scoring five goals in 11 league games, Dyke is now being linked with Premier League Big Six clubs: Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.

The transition has been maddening, Dyke says. I think I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. I’ve been dreaming a bit about this change and being able to play with top players and top staff. It was phenomenal.

What is most impressive is that Dyke has adapted to a very different soccer culture and tactical approach than he experienced in Orlando. The cold and rain in England are a big shock compared to the heat and humidity of central Florida. And he is no longer the biggest and strongest man on the field.

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We’re seeing a lot more direct play, and physicality is a big factor right now, he said. I think I can be pushed a little more, and I need to use my brain a little more to think about being pushed or getting into a physical fight. I think that’s the biggest difference for me, it’s the style of play. But fortunately, with the good staff and players I have, they have integrated me well into the team and thinking : You know it will work for you. This is not going to work for [you].

Dyke’s next task will be to prove himself with the U.S. national team in the upcoming friendlies against Jamaica and Northern Ireland. The list of contenders for the lone striker position is long, but most are unproven. Joshua Sargent (Werder Bremen), Nicholas Gioacchini (Cana) and Jordan Cibatcheu (Young Boys) are the main contenders in this camp. But US manager Gregg Berhalter admits he has a striker with a different profile in Dyke.

You see some really good action with your back to the goal, in and around the penalty area, some really good players with power, Berhalter said of Dyke. He needs to work more on his movement in the penalty area, his movement behind the back line. I think sometimes when we ask him to come down and tie the game, it’s a little different than the other guys.

It has to be consistent, it has to be sustainable. So Daryl needs to keep that shape, keep moving. We really enjoyed working with him. We see great potential in it, and it continues to grow.

Dyke’s journey into the professional game has been equally incredible. His hometown of Edmond, Oklahoma, is not as well known as the home of football. Before Dyke made his US debut in January, only two Oklahoma natives – Joe-Max Moore and Zach Loyd – had played for the US national team. But Dyke is so big, so agile and so good at finishing that he has succeeded at every level, even though some teachers and coaches have advised him to try a different form of football.

I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve always wanted to try it, but at the same time my parents don’t really like American football, he said. That’s pretty dangerous. I can’t blame them.

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But Dyke remembers very well where Oklahoma stands in the American football hierarchy. There were no academies nearby, which meant fewer scouts and even fewer chances to get noticed. This reality can weigh heavily on the psyche of a player with career aspirations.

I think every [Oklahoma] player can have that thought, you’re going to have that little mental battle with yourself, he said. You look at the national team, you look at the youth team, you look at all those people, and there are no [non-collegiate players] on those teams. You look at them and think: How can I be with these players if I’m not in the academy? Will I be good enough? Do I have a chance?

Getting to know each other early always helps, especially when Bright is 14 years older than Daryl. What started as Daryl watching his older brother play developed into more specialized training when the opportunity arose. And the older his younger brother got, the more Bright marveled at what Daryl was capable of.

You look at some of the things Daryl did at a young age and you think: Man, this guy is something special, Bright said. Even when he was only 12 years old, I was organizing football camps with students. And I would literally tell him the same thing I would tell a student. And he’ll understand. They are: Wow.

Daryl also thanks his youth coaches who always challenged him in different ways, whether it was playing in an age group or training with older players. At that point, the player had to maximize those opportunities.

Daryl’s Oklahoma roots are destined for an older path to the professional ranks, where playing in college can be a valuable guide. Fortunately, Bright paved the way to some extent for his younger brother, who excelled at the University of Notre Dame and went on to play for the Portland Timbers and Toronto, among others. This has put Daryl on the radar of some major college programs, including Virginia. His actions in Charlottesville caught the attention of Orlando.

Daryl Dyke has scored five goals in 11 appearances since joining Barnsley on loan from Orlando City. Adam Davie/PA Images via Getty Images

Virginia head coach George Gelnovach admits he had not seen Daryl play in person before the player came to Virginia and relied on video and Bright’s reputation. As soon as Daryl arrived on campus, Gelnovach realized there was more to a player than his physical attributes.

There were moments of [playfulness], Gelnovac said. But one of the things no one ever talks about is his ruthlessness. He’s a fierce fighter, a relentless guy on the field. When you put that into a body like his, it’s pretty impressive.

Gelnovacz also noted that Dyke improved significantly in his first year, losing 15 pounds and diving into a more polished offense. This trend continues.

The next big jump was in Orlando, so he’s in a different environment and with pros around him, Gelnovach said. I think he’s capable of other things.

And at every opportunity, Bright was there to give advice and support. Daryl said Bright is 100% his harshest critic. After a game against Orlando City last season, Daryl received praise and Bright none, telling his younger brother how he could improve.

In fact, I told him it was one of his worst games for some reason, Bright said. And then, he scored in four consecutive games.

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Some may find this annoying, but for Daryl it is an effective counterpoint to the noise outside. He said: I think it’s good to have that professional person in the background who always listens to you and helps you succeed and grow as a player…. It’s nice to have someone like that.

Especially now that big clubs are interested in Daryl’s services. This is not the time to lose focus.

I told myself to live in the present, Daryl said. I think some players look ahead and forget to slow down and see what they can do now. That’s how I’ve lived my whole career, my whole life. I think about what I can do today to prepare for tomorrow.

Daryl’s progress is such that Bright now recognizes his younger brother’s accomplishments and even gives him a few compliments.

Many of my former teammates have said: Man, I just remember we were playing games and your little brother was on the sideline kicking the ball. And he was only four years old, Bright says. Now you’ll see it on the big stage.

If Daryl’s form continues, the scene could get even bigger.

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