News Matches
United States

Dike at the double: USMNT striker makes biggest statement yet as race for World Cup qualifying spots heats up

14:00 BST 16/07/2021
Dike Martinique USMNT
The Orlando City forward put his stamp on a lopsided 6-1 over Martinique, leading the way in a team featuring several impressive young stars

It's hard to take too much from a game against Martinique because they are, well, Martinique.

And saying that isn't meant to be disrespectful or sarcastic. It's simply reality. Martinique, who were battered by Canada in their Gold Cup opener, are not a FIFA-recognized national team and are certainly not the toughest test awaiting the U.S. men's national team at the Gold Cup.

So, what you look for in such mismatches are the little things: the decisions, the moments, the sequences. And, if you spent the game watching Daryl Dike, you saw glimpses of everything you could want from a No.9 as the striker made another big statement.

Dike scored two goals and was temporarily credited for a third in the USMNT's eventual 6-1 win over a game but outclassed Martinique team. He was undoubtedly the star of the show, illustrating why many are labeling him as the USMNT's striker of the future, and maybe even the present.

His first goal came from a magnificent cross from Matthew Hoppe, who also shined upfront despite being in preseason form.

Dike, who reportedly earned Premier League interest for his performances at Barnsley last season, showed off the heading ability that will make him a valuable asset in plenty of games, giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.

After displaying his poacher's instincts on a comedic finish nine minutes later that was eventually deemed an own goal, Dike did eventually net his brace in spectacular fashion.

Played in by Cristian Roldan, Dike demonstrated strength, speed, and some pretty sweet feet, bullying his way past one defender and running past another before looping a chipped shot into the back of the net.

It was exactly the type of performance Gregg Berhalter would have wanted to see from Dike, who might just play his way into being the frontrunner to start up front by the time World Cup qualifying rolls around.

"I think what we're doing now is just focusing on this tournament, and this group and how we can keep getting better," Berhalter said when asked if Dike is the USMNT's go-to striker these days.

"We know there are going to be some really competitive games coming up, starting with Sunday (against Canada), and from there, we analyze. I don't think it's appropriate now to make a judgment from this game.

"I think Daryl performed well and he scored some good goals. He showed why we really rate him, and we think he's an important part of our team, but we're not jumping to conclusions on anyone based on today."

As to be expected in a game that finished 6-1, Dike wasn't the only star. Gyasi Zardes and Nicholas Gioacchini got goals of their own, and Miles Robinson also scored while putting in another solid shift defensively. Gianluca Busio looked good, and Eryk Williamson did too.

However, if you're giving out a second place in the Man of the Match voting, it would certainly go to James Sands, who made a statement of his own as part of the USMNT's three-centerback setup.

Playing in the middle of that three, Sands was a standout, showing off a significantly improved on-the-ball game. His passing was crisp, his decisions were good and, in the moments he needed to defend, he proved up to the task.

Sands, making his second USMNT cap, is off to a great start and, by next month, could certainly find his way moving higher up the depth chart.

As things stand, John Brooks is a lock, while players like Robinson, Walker Zimmerman, Mark McKenzie, Aaron Long, Matt Miazga and Tim Ream have all featured in central defense. But Sands looks more than capable in a three-man setup, should Berhalter go that way.

"I liked his game today, I thought it was excellent," Berhalter said. "He battled, he competed. His passion was excellent.

"We don't always have the opportunity to play three in the back, but he gives you that option, certainly. Really proud of James, proud of the way he's performed in both the games and he's been fun to work with so far."

Berhalter is almost certain to turn to Dike for the upcoming group stage finale against Canada, and there's a chance he could turn to Sands too for a game that does have legitimate meaning for the U.S.

With a win, the U.S. would finish top of the group, and avoid a potential date with Mexico until the tournament finale. With a draw or loss, they'll finish second and stare down a marquee clash with their rivals in the semi-final round.

Sunday's game against Canada will be the USMNT's toughest test yet. So far, players like Dike and Sands have passed those tests, but it's only going to get harder from here.