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Luiz Muzzi: Orlando City in much better position than ever before after MLS SuperDraft

The Lions gained four new players through the first two rounds of the SuperDraft, including “monster” first-round pick Daryl Dike.

Virginia's Daryl Dike (9) celebrates after scoring a goal during the College Cup against Georgetown in Cary, N.C., on Dec. 15, 2019. Orlando City drafted Dike in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft Thursday. (Ben McKeown/AP)

With the clock ticking down on Orlando City’s No. 5 pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi requested a three-minute timeout.

The pause wasn’t a reflection of a sudden change in heart. Virginia forward Daryl Dike had been Orlando City’s top pick from the start. But in the rush of the new draft format, Muzzi wanted to make sure his team took its time to secure one of its final pieces of the offseason.

For Muzzi and his staff, the draft was going to plan. They had expected Robbie Robinson to go first; from there, they had projected centerbacks Jack Maher and Henry Kessler to fall second and third, with Vancouver taking midfielder Ryan Raposo fourth.

Even when Kessler stayed on the board, however, the Lions remained set on Dike as their pick.

“He’s a guy that you look at him and he’s got all the tools, right?” Muzzi said. “He’s a monster. He can hold up the ball, he can score [and] he’s an exciting young player. He has all the tools to develop and be one of the top scorers in the league.”

Standing at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Dike will become one of the most powerful frames along the Orlando City attacking front. He scored 10 goals and added eight assists during his sophomore season at Virginia, standing out for his ability as a hold-up attacker.

Muzzi referred to Dike as a “2000,” a reference to the fact that the forward was born in 2000, clocking in as one of the youngest players selected in this year’s draft. That youth was part of Dike’s appeal to Muzzi and new coach Óscar Pareja, who have emphasized youth development as a key factor in their plans for Orlando City.

Dike will enter a group of young players who already have begun to find a footing for the Lions. Rookies Santiago Patiño and Benji Michel netted a combined 10 goals last season, while fellow first-year Kamal Miller stepped up into a starting outside back position.

The Lions also signed three players to Homegrown contracts this offseason, including longtime academy player Jordan Bender.

At the conclusion of the 2019 season, Muzzi made it clear a playoff berth is the only option for Orlando City in the club’s sixth year in MLS. His offseason decisions have been made with that goal in mind, bringing in veterans such as centerback Antônio Carlos and Andrés Perea to make an immediate impact this season.

But for a young player such as Dike, the expectations will be different. His selection is a reflection of the club’s plan to continue developing a core of young talent, with sights set on a future beyond the 2020 season.

“I think he needs to come in knowing that he needs to compete, but knowing that he doesn’t need to be that impact [player] right away,” Muzzi said. “He needs to be patient, but he needs to be competitive. Patient doesn’t mean that he can just come in and go through the motions. He needs to be really competitive, but there’s no pressure that he needs to be coming in day one and scoring five goals a game.”

The Lions continued to add to their young core in the second round of the draft with three players — midfielder Joey DeZart, defender Jonathan Dean and goalkeeper Austin Aviza.

The trio of second-round picks provided a unique challenge for the Orlando City scouting team.

“When you have No. 31, 39 and 40, you know that you have to be looking for the hidden guys,” Muzzi said. “We were looking for the guys that not everybody is talking about.”

Each of the three second-round additions was placed on the Orlando City radar in different ways. Muzzi felt confident in selecting DeZart due to the success he and Pareja had experienced with players out of Wake Forest in the past.

The former captain at UCF, Dean was recognized as a local fan favorite with an engine and competitive edge. Orlando City B coach Marcelo Neveleff, meanwhile, was the one to flag Aviza as a seasoned college keeper after tracking his development well before the draft.

For the three second-rounders, the expectations will be simple — come into preseason prepared to raise the competition level in training.

“Every time you’ve got a young player, it just increases competition,” Muzzi said. “Competition is good for anybody. We love to work with these young guys. [They’re] gonna be fighting with other guys who want to do the same thing. It just adds to the mix.”

The offseason work isn’t quite done for Muzzi. There are still several targets he hopes to sign, and he plans to finish adding those final pieces before the preseason to maximize Pareja’s time with the full squad.

But on Thursday, Muzzi said he felt more confident in the Lions’ roster than he had at the same time last year.

“I think we’re in a position right now that’s much better than we’ve ever been before in terms of having all the pieces in place,” Muzzi said. “We’ve still got a couple things that we’re working on, and then when we start preseason, we should be ready to go.”

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