- Gavin Rushnell
Answering Orlando City's Striker Question
When one looks at the current Orlando City roster, what do they see? They see a World Cup goalkeeper. They see a solid defensive group. They see a win-now midfield. Then, they cast their eyes to the forwards and what do they see? They see a 19-year-old unproven draft pick, a 27-year-old whose ceiling is 10 goals, two 22-year-olds who have a combined 7 goals and 2 assists in 34 appearances, and a DP who has scored 29 goals in his last three seasons. It's underwhelming, to say the least. What should be done? What's already been done? What are my predictions? Keep reading to find the answers to those questions and more.
What's Already Been Done?
It is no secret that Orlando City wanted a new striker this winter. Early rumors surfaced that Orlando City was in the running for future SKC striker Alan Pulido. Then, Orlando fans got their hopes up with the possible arrival of the prolific Argentinian German Cano. And let's not forget that Orlando attempted to trade for Minnesota's Darwin Quintero, who ended up in Houston.
All attempts have clearly failed. Alan Pulido was sent elsewhere, German Cano chose a different club, and Dom Dwyer stood by his no-trade clause. That's correct, Orlando actually attempted to trade Dom Dwyer. Twice. Minnesota United went back in for him, but he didn't want to move his whole family unless he was guaranteed stability through a new 3-year contract, which he wasn't. Thus, Dom stays with Orlando.
Whether the lack of new striker forced Orlando's hand in the MLS Superdraft or not is unknown but one thing is clear, Orlando got an interesting player through that medium. When it was Orlando's turn to pick, the 19-year-old Daryl Dike was the name on Oscar Pareja's lips. His physical stats read 6'2 220 lbs. Yep, you read that right. He is a physical specimen. So much so that FIFA 20 has already rated him as the 2nd strongest player in the entire game with a rating of 95. I know that FIFA ratings aren't what we should go by, but that is quite representative of the type of player we have got.
What's Happening Now?
Training camp has just begun for the upcoming 2020 season and Pareja's opinions on the roster are starting to evolve. While not seeing any of the first-teamers in action yet, he was able to see Santiago Patino and Daryl Dike in our first friendly against Stetson. Dike grabbed a goal in the 3-0 victory. (Skip to the 40-second mark to see his goal).
With preseason starting to ramp up, competition for a place in the squad is happening all over the pitch, but none more so than the striker position. There are legitimate cases to be made for 4 of our 5 strikers to be *the* starter this season.
Michel: Benji is probably one of our most clinical finishers in front of goal. In his limited minutes last year, he managed to score 6 goals in only 1,117 minutes. He rarely skied his shots and was lethal when presented with the chance. Many people, both inside and outside the club, want to see him given a chance at the striker position. Maybe this will be the year he's given that opportunity.
Akindele: Coming off of a career-high year, some would say to go for the hot hand and at 27 years old, his best years could still be ahead of him. Similarly to Benji, Tesho was relatively cool in front of goal and actually posted a very similar goal per minute ratio to the rookie (Tesho: 1 goal per 188 minutes, Benji: 1 goal per 186 minutes). Tesho also provided a good work rate in pressing from the front situations, which I'm expecting a lot of this season.
Dike: Daryl is a player with huge potential who many fans are excited to see. His supposed skill set and physicality really capture the imagination. After a strong year with the University of Virginia and mild interest from Europe, the sky is the limit for our first-round draft pick.
Dwyer: Simply put, he's done it before. Dom has surpassed 15 goals four times in his career and the fans want to see him find that form again. If Dom can stay injury-free this preseason, he has every opportunity to be the starting striker on day one due to his DP contract and past success as a striker.
In the world of soccer, there are many different ways to play. In order to carry out those play styles, managers will set up their teams differently. For Pareja, he has historically used two base formations throughout his career. The 4-2-3-1 and the 4-4-2. With the players at his disposal, Pareja could very well switch between these two systems on a game-to-game basis. If true, this means we will see a lot of rotation when it comes to the striker area of the pitch.
What Should be Done?
I think that the five strikers should be told that the starting spot is up for grabs. I want Pareja to look at them and tell them that age, experience, and salary do not matter to him. The only thing that should matter is how hard the player is working and if they are successful in the role. Now, success doesn't always mean goals or assists. Dike was seen as the best player in the draft by many pundits even though he only scored 10 goals in 23 games. Rather, it is how well the player contributes to the team as a whole that should define our starter.
Right now, do I think this is what will happen? Probably not. Dom Dwyer will most likely be in the starting lineup against RSL on the 29th, but that's okay. What would not be okay is if he goes through another rough spell and he is allowed to remain in the team. Competition for the starting striker spot must be at an all-time high throughout the whole season so the player who is starting knows he must perform week in week out to remain in his position.
As I just said, I believe that Dom will be the starter, but I have a feeling Benji and Dike will be breathing down his neck. With international duty and injuries during the season, we could switch to a 4-4-2 and see any combination of Benji, Dom, Dike, and Tesho, depending on who is available at the time, leading the line. I think Santiago Patino will mainly be a part of OCB this year and will be brought up to the team if need be. I would ideally like to see a combined tally of 35 goals from this group if everyone stays healthy, but that depends on just how much the system will rely on our central striker to score.
With the knowledge that the club is looking to bring in one more player before the start of the season, we may be getting a prolific right-winger. If that were to be the case, an even distribution of the goal-scoring across the front three is to be expected.
The striker question is a complicated one because of our emotions towards each individual player. I believe we, including Dom himself, can all say that we were disappointed in his performances last season. While Tesho had an unexpected year, I think most people don't believe he can replicate it. The fans seem to be high on Benji and Dike and are hoping to see both of them given a chance this season.
One thing is for certain, it's going to be very interesting to see how this all plays out. Will Dwyer recapture his 2014 form? Will Dike live up to the hype? Will Benji have a breakout year? I don't know, but we will find out together.
'Til next time, this has been Gavin Rushnell and #VamosOrlando.