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USMNT’s Daryl Dike is a ‘breath of fresh air’ for a small English club with big hopes

Daryl Dike celebrates a goal against Queens Park Rangers early this month in London. (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Upon arrival this winter at Barnsley, a second-division soccer club in a former mining town three hours north of London, Daryl Dike introduced himself to his new teammates.

They knew he had come on loan from MLS’s Orlando City, where he enjoyed a splendid rookie season last year and had recently debuted with the U.S. national team.

A few perhaps understood he starred at the same university, Virginia, as Barnsley’s chief executive, Dane Murphy.

What they could not quite grasp was Dike’s state roots.

“Oh, I’m from Oklahoma,” he said.

“Oklahoma?” they asked. “What’s in Oklahoma?”

“I told them it’s by Texas,” he said with a smile during a recent Zoom interview. “Because everyone knows about Texas.”

In the seven weeks since the geography lesson, Barnsley players and supporters alike have gotten to know a lot about the 20-year-old striker from Edmond, an Oklahoma City suburb.

And with each of his five goals in 11 league appearances, which have helped vault Barnsley into the race for promotion to the Premier League, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Dike (pronounced DEE-kay) has drawn attention from clubs in the Premier League and elsewhere in Europe.

The scoring spree has also lifted his national team profile and earned him a call-up to the current camp. He was not in uniform for the 4-1 victory over Jamaica on Thursday in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, but seems to be in Coach Gregg Berhalter’s plans Sunday against Northern Ireland in Belfast.

“[Dike’s performance] needs to be consistent, it needs to be sustainable, so Daryl needs to continue with his form, continue to push forward. … We see a lot of potential in him,” Berhalter said.

Dike received his first call-up in November, a reward for posting eight goals and four assists in 17 MLS appearances. An injury prevented him from playing against El Salvador, but he returned for the January camp and debuted against Trinidad and Tobago.

The next day, Orlando loaned him to Barnsley for the second half of the English season. Three weeks into his stay, he scored against Stoke City, then added four more goals in a 15-day span, including two against Wycombe Wanderers on March 17.

“I am not necessarily surprised [by the scoring],” Dike said. “I recognize my quality, and the quality around me has made it easier. One of the reasons I took the step [to England] was so I could grow as a player, play a different kind of style, a different kind of football. Every single game I’m learning something new.”

Dike’s ascent comes just 15 months after, as a sophomore, he helped Virginia advance to the 2019 College Cup final. He then turned pro and was drafted fifth overall by Orlando.

Scoring in college and MLS is one thing. Doing so after arriving midseason in a second-tier maelstrom known as the English Championship is another matter.

“I thought he would have an impact,” said Murphy, a former D.C. United midfielder and technical director. “Did I think it would be as immediate and plentiful as it has been? No. He has a real self-assurance and clears any hurdle thrown his way.”

Orlando’s loan of Dike includes an option for Barnsley to purchase him at the end of the season in May for a reported $20 million, too expensive for the English club’s tastes — unless it reaps the financial windfall from promotion. Such figures are typically negotiable as well.

These are exciting times at Barnsley, which, since its founding in 1887, has competed in England’s top flight once (1997-98). It holds the record for matches played in the second division and also has spent many years in lower tiers. Its only FA Cup title came in 1912.

A year after dodging relegation to the third division by one point, Barnsley entered the international break in fifth place. The top two clubs earn automatic promotion, and the next four enter a playoff for the last berth.

Since Dike’s arrival, the club is 9-1-1 in league play to raise its mark to 19-7-12. Aside from the goals, Murphy said, the U.S. forward has brought an upbeat vibe.

“He is such a breath of fresh air,” Murphy said. “Just so full of life, energy, enthusiasm. It’s very different than the English football culture; he is always smiling and wanting to bring as much positivity to the group as possible. It relaxes guys and makes them feel at ease with him.”

Dike has embraced the challenge of a new league and country.

“Sometimes I think, ‘Wow, my life has changed so much in the last 16 months,’ ” he said. “I want to continue to develop and grow and grow and grow. ”

Dike comes from a soccer family. His brother, Bright, starred at Notre Dame, was a seven-year pro and represented Nigeria on the international stage. Courtney Dike, an Oklahoma State standout, appeared in the 2015 Women’s World Cup for Nigeria.

Last year Daryl was the only MLS player born in Oklahoma, a state that has produced one U.S. national team star: Hall of Famer Joe-Max Moore.

Barnsley, a city of 91,000 in South Yorkshire between Leeds and Sheffield, is neither Oklahoma nor Orlando.

“It’s a bit colder,” Dike said.

Dike promised himself he wouldn’t start thinking about where he’ll be after the loan ends — central Florida, England, elsewhere in Europe — until the current campaign ends.

“I’m thinking in the present,” he said. “Sometimes people think too much about the future and not what’s happening right in front of them. I’m soaking it up.”

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