PORTLAND, Ore. – As far as Bright Dike is concerned, 2013 is already here.
In fact, the Portland Timbers forward is already referring to the club’s voluntary offseason training sessions as the “preseason,” despite the fact that training camp won’t officially open until February of next year.
“I don’t really worry about overdoing it,” Dike said. “You really can’t worry about overdoing it during the preseason. ... Preseason and offseason are all about pushing yourself as hard as you can go, and hopefully you’ll see the benefits later on.”
Dike is part of a handful of Timbers players who are remaining in the Rose City for most of the offseason, a list that also includes first-team regulars such as fellow forwards Danny Mwanga and Brent Richards. Moreover, Dike will have the opportunity for some game action, as he received a call-up to Nigeria for their friendly against Venezuela on Wednesday in Miami.
“It’s something you might not get maybe if you were home,” Dike said of the Portland-based workouts. “We just want to work hard this offseason so that next season will be a better season.”
Assistant coach Sean McAuley was leading Friday’s session on a soggy, gray morning. He has players mostly focusing on on-ball technique so as not to lose touch during the approximately three-month offseason. He said it’s especially important for younger players.
“I think it’s important that the players keep working because they’re still developing,” McAuley said.
Dike is especially motivated to not lose a step. After being sent away to the LA Blues on a midseason loan, he returned to win a starting spot and score five goals in the Timbers' final 11 games. That late drive also contributed to the Nigeria call-up – Dike's first international invitation at any level.
“The season ended really early for me, so I definitely have that hunger for next season,” he said prior to joining the Super Eagles on Sunday. “I always like getting touches on the ball and getting better. It’s really all about working hard and getting better and learning from our mistakes from last year and hopefully do something better this year.”
Both Dike and Mwanga said they feel like the team can compete next year with the players currently on the roster and that it may just be a matter of making a few tweaks here and there and improving through hard work. They said the offseason training sessions already have the intensity of a team ready to start regular-season games.
“It doesn’t matter if it's offseason training, when everyone shows up here, everybody is trying to compete,” said Mwanga, who grew up and still lives in Portland. “So everybody is looking forward to competing next year for spots, and I think it starts here.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.