Lions add some at­tack­ing power

Or­lando City chooses Dike with fifth pick in MLS Su­perDraft.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Ju­lia Poe

With the clock tick­ing down on Or­lando City’s No. 5 pick in the 2020 MLS Su­perDraft, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of soc­cer op­er­a­tions Luiz Muzzi re­quested a three-minute time­out.

The pause wasn’t a re­flec­tion of a sud­den change in heart. Vir­ginia for­ward Daryl Dike had been Or­lando City’s top pick from the start. But in the rush of the new draft for­mat, Muzzi wanted to make sure his team took its time to se­cure one of its fi­nal pieces of the off­sea­son.

For Muzzi and his staff, the draft was go­ing to plan. They had ex­pected Rob­bie Robinson to go first; from there, they had pro­jected cen­ter­backs Jack Ma­her and Henry Kessler to fall sec­ond and third, with Van­cou­ver tak­ing mid­fielder Ryan Ra­poso fourth.

Even when Kessler stayed on the board, how­ever, the Lions re­mained set on Dike as their pick.

“He’s a guy that you look at him and he’s got all the tools, right?” Muzzi said. “He’s a mon­ster. He can hold up the ball, he can score [and] he’s an ex­cit­ing young player. He has all the tools to de­velop and be one of the top scor­ers in the league.”

Stand­ing at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Dike will be­come one of the most pow­er­ful frames along the Or­lando City at­tack­ing front. He scored 10 goals and added eight as­sists dur­ing his sopho­more sea­son at Vir­ginia, stand­ing out for his abil­ity as a hold-up at­tacker.

Muzzi re­ferred to Dike as a “2000,” a ref­er­ence to the fact that the for­ward was born in 2000, clock­ing in as one of the youngest play­ers se­lected in this year’s draft. That youth was part of Dike’s ap­peal to Muzzi and new coach Ós­car Pareja, who have em­pha­sized youth de­vel­op­ment as a key fac­tor in their plans for Or­lando City.

Dike will en­ter a group of young play­ers who al­ready have be­gun to find a foot­ing for the Lions. Rook­ies San­ti­ago Patiño and Benji Michel net­ted a com­bined 10 goals last sea­son, while fel­low first-year Ka­mal Miller stepped up into a start­ing out­side back po­si­tion.

The Lions also signed three play­ers to Home­grown con­tracts this off­sea­son, in­clud­ing long­time academy player Jor­dan Ben­der.

At the con­clu­sion of the 2019 sea­son, Muzzi made it clear a play­off berth is the only op­tion for Or­lando City in the club’s sixth year in MLS. His off­sea­son de­ci­sions have been made with that goal in mind, bring­ing in vet­er­ans such as cen­ter­back An­tônio Car­los and An­drés Perea to make an im­me­di­ate im­pact this sea­son.

But for a young player such as Dike, the ex­pec­ta­tions will be dif­fer­ent. His se­lec­tion is a re­flec­tion of the club’s plan to con­tinue de­vel­op­ing a core of young tal­ent, with sights set on a fu­ture be­yond the 2020 sea­son.

“I think he needs to come in know­ing that he needs to com­pete, but know­ing that he doesn’t need to be that im­pact [player] right away,” Muzzi said. “He needs to be pa­tient, but he needs to be com­pet­i­tive.

“Pa­tient doesn’t mean that he can just come in and go through the mo­tions. He needs to be re­ally com­pet­i­tive, but there’s no pres­sure that he needs to be com­ing in day one and scor­ing five goals a game.”

The Lions con­tin­ued to add to their young core in the sec­ond round of the draft with three play­ers — mid­fielder Joey DeZart, de­fender Jonathan Dean and goal­keeper Austin Aviza.

The trio of sec­ond-round picks pro­vided a unique chal­lenge for the Or­lando City scout­ing team.

“When you have No. 31, 39 and 40, you know that you have to be look­ing for the hid­den guys,” Muzzi said. “We were look­ing for the guys that not every­body is talk­ing about.”

Each of the three sec­on­dround ad­di­tions was placed on the Or­lando City radar in dif­fer­ent ways. Muzzi felt con­fi­dent in se­lect­ing DeZart due to the suc­cess he and Pareja had ex­pe­ri­enced with play­ers out of Wake For­est in the past.

The for­mer cap­tain at UCF, Dean was rec­og­nized as a lo­cal fan fa­vorite with an en­gine and com­pet­i­tive edge. Or­lando City B coach Marcelo Nevel­eff, mean­while, was the one to flag Aviza as a sea­soned col­lege keeper af­ter track­ing his de­vel­op­ment well be­fore the draft.

For the three sec­on­drounders, the ex­pec­ta­tions will be sim­ple — come into pre­sea­son pre­pared to raise the com­pe­ti­tion level in train­ing.

“Ev­ery time you’ve got a young player, it just in­creases com­pe­ti­tion,” Muzzi said. “Com­pe­ti­tion is good for any­body. We love to work with these young guys. [They’re] gonna be fight­ing with other guys who want to do the same thing. It just adds to the mix.”

The off­sea­son work isn’t quite done for Muzzi. There are still sev­eral tar­gets he hopes to sign, and he plans to fin­ish ad­ding those fi­nal pieces be­fore the pre­sea­son to max­i­mize Pareja’s time with the full squad.

But on Thurs­day, Muzzi said he felt more con­fi­dent in the Lions’ ros­ter than he had at the same time last year.

“I think we’re in a po­si­tion right now that’s much bet­ter than we’ve ever been be­fore in terms of hav­ing all the pieces in place,” Muzzi said. “We’ve still got a cou­ple things that we’re work­ing on, and then when we start pre­sea­son, we should be ready to go.”

OR­LANDO SENTINEL ME­DIA GROUP

Vir­ginia’s Daryl Dike, seen cel­e­brat­ing a goal in the NCAA cham­pi­onship, was cho­sen in the first round of the MLS Su­perDraft by Or­lando City.

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