PORTLAND, Ore. – If there’s any player who exemplifies the benefits of MLS’s partnership with USL Pro, it’s Bright Dike.
The Portland Timbers forward, previously a seldom-used reserve, was sent on loan to USL Pro side LA Blues midseason last year. He returned to Portland a new player, scoring five goals in the Timbers final 11 games last year.
WATCH: Dike scores against Rapids
Now, the Timbers have picked up Dike’s contract for another year and he figures prominently into new head coach Caleb Porter’s plans.
“I think it’s really important for players to get games because when you’re not getting regular games it kind of puts you out of rhythm,” Dike told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s really hard to emulate games in practice. For those guys who maybe aren’t getting as many games as they should be – and there are a lot of good players that are not regularly getting games – I think this combination is really good for those players.”
During Dike’s three months with the Blues, he scored six goals and two assists in 10 games.
“It definitely had me in a rhythm when I came back to Portland,” the third-year MLS player said.
But it was more than time on the pitch that allowed him to grow as a player, Dike said, it was the realization that he didn’t yet know what it meant to be a professional soccer player.
“You always have to be a professional even if you’re not getting games,” he said. “I think that’s something I definitely focused on when I was on loan, ‘When I come back to Portland they’re going to see a difference and I’m going to make sure of that.’ I definitely evaluated myself every week.”
Porter said Dike’s situation underscores the importance of a more developed hierarchy system. He said it’s “crucial” for the growth of MLS. This year, MLS Reserve teams will play “interleague” games with USL Pro teams, increasing the number of Reserve League games. But in coming years, MLS teams will be able to affiliate themselves with USL Pro teams. Timbers defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste also spent time with the Blues during his rookie season last year.
“We have young players on this team that won’t necessarily be ready to play first-team games, but they will in the long run as long if we cultivate them properly,” Porter said. “The reserve league is certainly one avenue, but if we can form a relationship with USL teams to be able to loan players out that’s going to help even further.”
Porter said there are no official plans for the Timbers to affiliate themselves with a USL Pro team yet, but said they are going over all their options.
“It’s going to be critical that we focus on now and winning games now but also that we have a succession plan for when we lose some of our senior players we have younger players underneath that can move up and step in,” he said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.