Orlando City SC forward Daryl Dike returned from international duty at this summer's Gold Cup with a shoulder injury and tendinitis, and hadn't featured for the Lions since July 3 until last Friday's match against Inter Miami CF, in which he came on as a halftime sub in what was ultimately a scoreless draw.
While that return to the fold was a joyful moment for Dike personally, the result meant Orlando have now scored just four goals in their last five games as their form has stuttered with four draws in that spell. While the club remains second in the Eastern Conference standings, the areas of improvement are obvious and Dike expressed confidence that he can be the man to make that happen.
“For me, it's just how can I do what I normally do — that's bringing the team up, scoring goals, doing whatever I can do to help the team, whether it be the assists, the goals, the runs, everything," Dike said following training on Wednesday. "For me, that's how I always play, it's not always about the goals.
"I think at the end of the day, if I’m up top the goals will come. So for me, it’s just how can I help the team to win and being a problem for the other team as well."
Dike's been playing consistently over the past year, including his continued participation with the US men's national team and his loan to English side Barnsley, where he built his reputation leading that team to the Championship playoffs and falling just short of promotion to the Premier League.
Dike is philosophical about the busy schedule he's been on before his injury, noting, "I've had a lot of games, a lot of time, but that's a good problem to have. I guess I really don't consider it a problem. I enjoy playing games."
But he also is philosophical about the break that the injury's allowed him to have, assessing, "I think it was good to allow me to recoup mentally and recoup physically coming into the final stretch of the season, for the last couple of games coming in the playoffs. It's good to me to be able to have that break, and now to almost have another fresh kind of 'restart.'"
Dike's recovery, however, means that he's missing out on the first round of World Cup qualifiers in the Octagonal, starting with Thursday night's match in El Salvador (10:05 pm ET | CBS Sports Network, Universo, Paramount+), but he shared that US head coach Gregg Berhalter is just looking for him to work back to full health.
"It was just making sure I get back to full fitness and getting healthy again," he said. "You know to do that, I have to play games and that was something that was big and important for me, to continue to play games and get back into fitness."
Orlando head coach Oscar Pareja, in his press conference Thursday, had encouraging words for those looking for Dike to start and even play a full 90 against the Columbus Crew on Saturday (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).
"Last game he was feeling much better and he got 45 minutes and now he’s ready," Pareja noted. "He has trained much better during the week, he has been connected again with his teammates and I’m happy for that. I think he’s a very important piece of our team."
Dike noted, of his evolving relationship with Pareja, "We have a very very good relationship and I think it's great that he can be honest with me, I can be honest with him, and one of the main things is he wants me to be an important piece on the team."
While Dike and Pareja are on the same page about the importance of all Orlando players contributing to the team's MLS Cup aspirations, they also seem to understand how important Dike could be in that.
"He told me about how he values me in terms of helping the team out in training and in games and to help push things," Dike said. "He believes in me, he believes that I have a different piece that to offer than you know some other players.
"It's great to have that trust between you and your coach," he added. "And it kind of makes you want to work extra hard for him."