When Daryl Dike arrived back in Orlando from his loan stint with Barnsley in the English Championship, a better version of the 21-year-old forward stepped into Benji Michel’s car at the airport.

And Dike put that on display with a brace in his first start of 2021 for Orlando City SC in a 5-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes Tuesday night at Exploria Stadium.

“Every single training session, whether it’s been on loan or with the national team and coming back here, I’ve always made sure I’ve improved,” Dike said in his post-match press conference. “For me, being able to find space, my movement and how I work with the guys around me, that’s something I’ve always told myself i want to improve on, of course the technique and the finishing as always.”

Lions coach Oscar Pareja noticed the difference in Dike’s play and was impressed with how quickly the forward was able to acclimate back with his Orlando teammates.

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“I think he’s improved in a lot of stuff, his matureness is very clear,” Pareja said. “His movements are solid. I can see the connections he’s making with his teammates, with Chris [Mueller], and it’s making more sense, the game itself.

"We’re happy to have Daryl back after his stay in England and the national team. He came not long ago and now he’s connected with the team again and such a performance so we’re happy.”

Dike’s second MLS brace was in front of the first full capacity crowd he’s played in front of as a professional. He said the energy of the crowd was infectious.

“Especially having the fans we do, you can feel the difference,” he said. “You can feel the presence. You can make that extra run, make that extra tackle. Having fans there, it truly pushes us to another level. For me, it’s something I truly cherish.”

Dike’s first goal came in the 31st minute when he was played behind by Nani, took a touch around Quakes goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski and slotted into the open net. The Portuguese star also up his second goal with a free-kick delivery Dike latched onto and headed downwardly into the net.

“With having guys around me, leaders like Nani around me and other guys you know makes it a lot easier of course,” Dike said.

Michel also scored two goals in the rout — his first two MLS goals — which was almost fitting considering how close the two attacking players are on and off the pitch.

“Daryl’s my boy. I picked him up from the airport, we spend a lot of time together. I’m glad he’s back,” Michel said. “He’s done well in England, but now it’s time for him to be back. We connect well on the field. He’s always looking for me, I’m always looking for him. He’s a physical presence — you cannot miss him. It’s good to have him back with us, with the team, in the locker room, outside the locker room just hanging out. It’s good to have Daryl back. He’s a baller.”

Dike’s first two goals of his second MLS season comes on the heels of a nine-goal performance for Barnsley in a push for promotion which fell just short. 

Now uniquely qualified, Dike discussed the qualities of both leagues. 

“After playing across both leagues, you see just how good MLS is,” Dike said. “A lot of people kind of downplay the quality of the league and I think being able to see both leagues, you see how good the players are, you see how strong the league is. In terms of the difference? Each league has a different style of play and Championship you may see the more physical side, the pressing, the gritty football. Here you see the ball swinging around a little bit more. It’s just a different style of play.”

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