A knockout tournament round of 16 match, clinging to a 1-0 lead, is not the normal setting for two rookie debuts.
However on Saturday night, both MLS SuperDraft picks Daryl Dike (pictured left) and Joey DeZart (pictured right) logged their first professional minutes for Orlando City, helping the Lions secure a spot in the MLS is Back quarterfinals.
“It’s going to make them grow a lot,” head coach Oscar Pareja said of the pair after the match. “The circumstances of the tournament, not just debuting in any game, they’re debuting in a game that needed personality, that needs their presence in the game to seal it, to get into spaces and obviously to get the win. It’s a responsibility that they absorbed well and we are very proud.”
Dike, who was picked 5th overall in the 2020 SuperDraft, was a highly touted forward out of college and had the potential to go 1st or 2nd in the draft, but fell to Orlando at five. DeZart, picked 31st overall, was a four-year player out of Wake Forest who signed with the Lions after impressing the coaching staff in preseason.
For both of these players to come into a pressure situation such as the game against Montreal and make an impact, it speaks to the level of trust that Oscar Pareja has in his young players. These are not just minutes he’s handing out to players, these are minutes that both Dike and DeZart have earned in their time training with the first team.
“The boys are prepared,” said Pareja. “We’re going to give the opportunity to all, but they are earning that opportunity. It’s not given to them, they are earning it, so tonight was a good demonstration of they were the ones who needed to do that job and they came out very sharp and did a great job.”
Pareja has spoken in the past about the long-term project of allowing the young players of Orlando City the opportunity to grow, to get playing time and to be a part of the team as much as any other player and on Saturday night, he put his words to reality.
Now that both Dike and DeZart have proven themselves in the eyes of their head coach, this could be the beginning of some excellent opportunities on the pitch in their near future.
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