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Dike to West Brom: Why USMNT star's Premier League dreams must begin in the Championship

18:00 GMT+4 07/01/2022
Daryl Dike USMNT 2021
Last summer, the striker was linked with a move to the Big Six, but his road will instead go through the second division of English soccer

Several months ago, Daryl Dike was the talk of American soccer.

The 21-year-old striker was linked with a move to the Premier League, potentially to a club in the 'Big Six'.

He had previously thrived in the Championship with Barnsley and was breaking through with the U.S. men's national team, fuelling the belief that he could someday thrive at the top levels of English soccer.

But a lot has changed since then. The hype around Dike has died down as form, fatigue and the rise of Ricardo Pepi has seen him overshadowed by American soccer's latest darling.

In the end, Dike got his permanent move to England, just not to a Big-Six club, or even one in the Premier League.

Instead, Dike has made a £7 million ($9.5m) transfer to West Brom as he looks to recapture some of the hype that made him one of the most talked-about American stars of 2021.

But the switch isn't just about generating hype. It's also about proving that he can be the USMNT's No.9 at this year's World Cup by leading West Brom back to the Premier League.

"It was an easy decision when I heard about the club's interest in me," Dike recently told ESPN. "It's always been in my head to be over here in England.

"Growing up, I have always dreamed of playing here, especially at a club like this, with history, the manager and the opportunity to go up to the Premier League. There were so many different factors that made the decision a lot easier for me."

It's been just 11 months since Dike truly began his ascent, rapidly shifting from MLS rookie to potential star.

After completing an injury-riddled debut season with Orlando City, Dike was loaned to Barnsley in the English Championship, putting him in the shop window in one of the biggest shops around.

And Dike thrived, netting nine goals in 19 league games, instantly becoming one of the hottest prospects around.

Links to clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool rolled in. Comparisons to Romelu Lukaku and Didier Drogba began to pop up.

He brought those links and those comparisons back with him to MLS when his loan to Barnsley expired this summer.

Orlando City reportedly rejected a $10m (£7.5m) offer for the striker back in March, as he remained highly valued at Orlando for both his playing abilities and as an asset.

"Last year, he had the opportunity to move to England and play in the Championship, which gave him a different experience in his career," his now-former teammate Nani told GOAL last summer.

"He could build up his game a little bit more and improve his strength and his qualities and managed to score a couple of goals.

"He’s a young player. He has a lot of things he can still improve but he’s a player who can fly very high. He’s just got to keep his feet on the ground and continue to work hard and have a good mentality."

But, as the season wore on, it was easy to see that Dike was feeling the grind of what he'd just gone through. He'd yet to truly play a full professional season, and tiredness looked like it had set in.

After shining for the U.S. men's national team in the run-up to the Gold Cup, Dike fell down the pecking order a bit as he struggled to match the level many had grown accustomed to.

Dike was good for Orlando City, scoring 10 goals in 18 appearances, but the interest and the hype began to die down a bit amid Pepi's emergence.

Still, the fee Orlando City received for Dike should not be overlooked. With that $9.5m fee, Dike is the fifth-most expensive sale in MLS history, putting him in the company of Miguel Amiron, Alphonso Davies, Pity Martinez and, of course, Pepi, who has just joined Augsburg for $20m (£15m).

West Brom, then, clearly have high expectations for Dike. They firmly believe he can fire them into the Premier League, as they currently sit fourth in the Championship within four points of automatic promotion.

Indeed, West Brom boss Valerien Ismael was in charge of Barnsley last season when Dike broke out, so he knows exactly what the forward is capable of.

“If you see the teams above us at the moment, Bournemouth have [Dominic] Solanke, Fulham have [Aleksandar] Mitrovic, Blackburn have [Ben] Brereton Diaz,” Ismael pointed out just before the Dike deal was completed.

“I think that it shows we are lacking a goalscorer – we have had so many chances but at the minute we aren’t taking those chances. Now it’s time to do something in that area.”

That something is Dike, who joins early enough in the month to jump right in for the second half of the Championship season.

West Brom are set to face Brighton this weekend in the FA Cup, but Ismael has already earmarked the club's next league game against QPR as the one where Dike could make his much-anticipated debut.

“When I was at Barnsley last season with the boss, we did really well to push up the table and finish in the play-off positions," Dike said of Ismael. “The boss was a big part of that and I feel as though he brings the best out in players.

“It’s important for me to go into a club which has a coach I have already worked with and I know the system we are going to play.

“He seems to like me and I like him too. Having that knowledge when you go to a place which at first is a little unfamiliar, it's great to have.”

It remains to be seen if Dike is called into the USMNT squad for upcoming qualifiers against El Salvador, Canada and Honduras.

As things stand, he's one of several young stars vying for the spot as the team's No.9, with Pepi, Matthew Hoppe, Josh Sargent and Jordan Pefok all in the mix as well.

That competition will only heat up on the road to Qatar, and that competition will largely be determined by players' club form over the next 12 months.

The USMNT's players are now facing a legacy-defining year when it comes to both qualifying for the World Cup and, ultimately, earning their place there when and if that happens.

Dike has taken his first step towards earning his spot, taking a brave leap into the Championship with a club that should give him the chance to shine.

The ball's in his court now, as he looks to achieve both his Premier League and World Cup dreams after finalizing his long-awaited move to England.