PORTLAND, Ore. — When Bright Dike’s Achilles tendon ruptured in a Portland Timbers preseason match against Ventura County in February, the MLS rookie forward entered uncharted territory.
There’s only so much a player can do to prepare for such a devastating injury, but Dike — who scored his first MLS goal in last Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City — had spent relatively little time on the trainers’ table during his career. The preseason that started with such promise turned into a long and arduous road back to full health.
“It’s really tough,” Dike said. “It’s amazing how many things you have to work on. I wasn’t able to walk. I had to learn to walk again. Learn to jump. Learn how to grasp the ground with my toes. Your whole leg, you have to retrain the movement.”
In 2010, Dike was the second-leading scorer on the then-USSF Division 2 Timbers with 10 tallies, but the injury sustained against Ventura County denied him a chance at an easy transition to MLS. He had surgery three days after sustaining the injury, and has been working his way back ever since.
“It’s a long process,” said the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Dike, who is built like a running back but starred on the pitch rather than the gridiron at Notre Dame, leading the Big East Conference in scoring as a junior and senior. “And it keeps going. Even now, it’s like I’m doing a preseason during the season. I’m doing extra running, extra touches, so many extra things after practices to get back to where I was and I can be.”
He made his Timbers debut in a July 7 friendly against Club América, a remarkably quick comeback from such an injury.
“I think he has the potential to play at this level, it’s just a matter of getting him back to full fitness,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said. “He’s a big, big strong boy. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody strike the ball as hard as he does in my whole time in the game. So we feel he definitely has a bright future here, no pun intended. It was a big injury for a player like him with such explosive movement.”
The work paid off for Dike, albeit in a bad moment for the team, when he came on in the 66th minute against Sporting. In the 81st minute, Dike drove a shot past diving goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen after Rodney Wallace found him on a pass across the penalty box.
“It was great to get that first goal,” Dike said. “I really only enjoyed it for five seconds, and then it was back to try to pull some goals back. You know, hopefully there’s more to come. And hopefully I can score some that will actually be more enjoyable. It feels good to be getting more and more playing time and getting my legs back.”
Dike is nowhere near full fitness but is a long way from the sobering moment when he questioned whether he’d ever play the game he loves again. He said soccer has been his life for so long that he can’t imagine doing anything else.
“For me, I’ve never been injured for more than a couple weeks,” he said. “So for me to be out for months … that’s something that I’ve never even imagined about myself. I’m just ready to play.”