BEAVERTON, Ore. – When Portland Timbers forward Bright Dike was shipped to the LA Blues of USL Pro earlier this season on loan, he tried to look on the bright side – he'd get more game experience and a chance to show Portland what he is capable of.
But if being sent to a third-division team wasn't a wake-up call for Dike, a former first-round pick of the Columbus Crew in the 2010 SuperDraft, it certainly opened his eyes to the fleeting nature of being a professional athlete.
Dike opens 2012 MLS account
"You never want to leave your main team, but my main reaction was, 'You know what, I'm going to make the most of this and make sure I get better so when I come back I can make an impact on this team and help this team,'" Dike said Wednesday after the Timbers' first training session back home following a two-game East Coast road trip. "I think I definitely have gotten better and have a better attitude. But it's kind of a humbling experience."
It was on the road trip where the imposing striker, who returned from the Blues loan on July 10, showed he belonged.
In the Timbers' 3-2 loss against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, Dike received his first MLS start and cashed in with his first goal of the season in the eighth minute. His entire performance against the Red Bulls, which drew high praise from interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson, was a validation of not only Dike's ability to score goals at the highest level but of his renewed dedication to improve as a player.
Dike spent most of his 2011 season rehabilitating after he tore his Achilles' tendon during a preseason game. Wilkinson said Wednesday that just because Dike was back healthy didn't mean he would have a spot on the team waiting for him.
And Wilkinson said the loan gave Dike "more respect for the profession. And that's not a dig at Bright in anyway whatsoever."
Wilkinson continued: "But sometimes you come into the professional game, and you've done well and come back from an injury, and things aren't going to be handed to you. I think Bright could have possibly worked a little bit harder, and you can ask Bright that as well."
After returning from injury last year, Dike came off the bench in 11 games and scored one goal. This year, he had just one other appearance before Sunday's start, so the loan opportunity offered him a perfect chance to showcase his talent.
Dike's 10-game stretch with the Blues, where he tallied six goals and two assists, was the most soccer he's played since he scored 10 goals for the USSF Division-2 Pro League Timbers after he was cut by Columbus.
"Just getting that game experience is a completely different mentality," Dike said of his time in Southern California. "I think anytime you can get games in, that's how you can get better the easiest. The biggest place to learn is games. I definitely realized that I have to correct some things and things I got chances to work on when I was over there that have definitely been a lot better since I've been over here."
And now with a start and a goal under his belt, Dike said he has no plans to rest on his laurels.
"It's great, but I just have to keep working harder to just try to make an impact on the team," he said. "I'm thankful for the opportunity, and hopefully I can keep it going."
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.