Daryl Dike, Andrés Perea rank among most promising young MLS players

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Orlando City striker Daryl Dike earned the No. 2 spot on this year’s MLS 22 Under 22 list, a ranking of the top players under that age, but some of his teammates disagreed with it.

“In my list, I still think he’s No. 1,” winger Benji Michel said of the 21-year-old striker.

Dike (pronounced dee-kay) only ranked behind Ricardo Pepi, an 18-year-old striker who earned attention after scoring 3 goals for the U.S. men’s national team and 13 for FC Dallas.

Dike has scored 6 goals in 12 matches — 15 less than Pepi — for the Lions after his 8-goal breakout rookie season in 2020.

The striker was joined on the list by Andrés Perea, who was ranked No. 29 overall on an extended ranking by MLS. Michel also called for Perea to be ranked in the top 15 or higher.

“That was a bit of a shocker to me,” Michel said. “These guys, day in and day out, they’re very consistent on the field.”

Michel, Dike and Perea are part of a young group of Orlando City players powering this year’s team.

While veterans like captain Luis Nani and midfielder Júnior Urso are key to their success, youth has taken increased responsibility.

“They’re very good players that are always very energetic,” defender Emmanuel Mas said. “We have to realize that they’ve got such a big responsibility for how young they are. They’re young and they’re always learning.”

Nani and other teammates describe Dike as intensely humble and inquisitive from the beginning.

While he welcomed accolades for his young star, coach Oscar Pareja said he’s more focused on keeping Dike’s head level as he continues to earn interest throughout international soccer and shoulders the Lions’ playoff hopes.

“I know this is important for him, but I’m trying with Daryl just keeping him concentrated on his job here,” Pareja said. “He knows that now he has a big responsibility with all this attention, but I’m confident that Daryl is going to do a good job. It’s not easy to have all this attention. We are glad for him, we are proud of the club and how he’s been developed. But Daryl knows this is the time just to concentrate on the task of getting us into the playoffs first.”

Refreshing international break

Orlando City players were rewarded with a few days off after winning in spectacular fashion against D.C. United in their last game before the October international break, but some opted to return to training early.

Michel and a small group trained with strength coach Fabian Bazan during those days off and held informal sessions to focus on finishing.

“It’s just making sure that we’re comfortable on the ball, comfortable in our craft,” Michel said.

The team is only missing two international players — midfielder Sebas Méndez (Ecuador) and goalkeeper Pedro Gallese (Peru). Both played their final matches of the October international window on Thursday night.

Although their availability will be questionable for this weekend, Orlando City enters the final phase of matches with nearly a full roster available for the first time all season. That includes having striker Pato, who is close to making his first return since a knee injury in the season opener.

“It’s a really good feeling having the whole team back together,” Michel said. “It’s like we’re back in the bubble. Everyone’s joking around, everyone’s having fun. The mood is better when all the guys are back in the locker room. It’s really just complete.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at jpoe@orlandosentinel.com.

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