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MLS star thankful for his time at ND

Joseph Monardo | Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On a Friday night in Ventura, Calif., former Irish forward Bright Dike heard something snap in his right leg. The Portland Timbers signee went down in the preseason game being played on that night in February 2011 – one of the preparation games for the Timbers’ first season in the MLS. After scoring 10 goals in Division II in 2010, Dike would head to the bench with a torn Achilles tendon as his team headed onto the biggest stage.

“It was really tough because here you are finally playing in the MLS where you wanted to, pretty much that’s been one of my main goals the whole time I was at Notre Dame, you know, to get to the MLS level and be playing at that level,” Dike said in a phone interview with The Observer on Oct. 5. “To finally get there and to and then get an Achilles injury, that was really kind of devastating.”

Dike suffered a notable setback in his Notre Dame career, as well. After moderate production in limited minutes during his first two years with the team, Dike redshirted his junior year due to personal reasons. Although Dike did not take the field during the 2007 season, he said he credits Irish coach Bobby Clark with making the experience a positive one.

“I just know that it was an unfortunate circumstance,” he said. “But, at the same time [Clark] still made me feel like part of the team … some coaches would have just only cared about who is starting particularly, but I think he really cares about every single person on the team and he kept me motivated to get back even though I wasn’t having a chance of playing that year.”

Dike rebounded in a big way during his first season back with the team in 2008 by registering a team-leading 29 points off 12 goals and five assists and starting all of Notre Dame’s 21 contests. He raised his game once again for his senior campaign in 2009, earning recognition as the Big East Offensive Player of the Year after scoring 11 goals and adding four assists in 13 starts.

Dike said the support Clark provided him during and after his redshirt season represented the program as a whole.

“I think beyond [being] soccer players they are just good people on and off the field,” he said. “There are so many guys that I think will be friends [of mine] for the rest of my life. I really felt that the chemistry of the group – I think that speaks of the coaching staff and Bobby Clark and the people he recruited. You know, he recruited good people just like himself and I think we all were playing for each other. And I think in a professional environment and a competitive environment, it’s really hard to find that chemistry [we had].”

During his career in an Irish uniform Dike took the pitch 86 times and made 38 starts, but his performance in Alumni Stadium’s first-ever soccer game on Sept. 1, 2009 stands out most prominently to the Oklahoma native.

“It was probably the first game we played at Notre Dame on the new pitch. We played Michigan for the season opener and I had a hat-trick in that game all in the second half,” Dike said. “So that was a really memorable game for us, for me.”

After going 12th in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft to the Columbus Crew, Dike has played with the Timbers in the MLS since 2011. He returned from his torn Achilles just four months after suffering the injury, which normally carries a recovery period of six to nine months. This year Dike has four goals in 11 appearances and has made eight starts, all coming in the last 10 games. In a span of eight games stretching from Aug. 19 to Sept. 29 Dike registered all four of his season’s goals and barely missed adding three more.

“I think I have hit the post three times so I am just inches away from having seven [goals],” Dike said. “You talk about the difference between four [goals] in eight [games] and seven in eight. You see how close you are, and it is just inches of focus to make you a better player and that is definitely driving me forward to make me a better player.”

Dike is one of the catalysts on a Timbers team that captured the 2012 Cascadia Cup, which is awarded to the team among the Timbers, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Seattle Sounders with the best record in head-to-head matchups. Although Portland (8-16-9) failed to qualify for the playoffs, the team went 3-1-2 against its regional rivals. The Timbers concluded their competition for the Cup on Sunday with a 1-0 win over Vancouver – a game in which Dike started and played 85 minutes.

Dike said he enjoys playing in front of the Timbers’ home crowd in Portland, especially the supporters group “Timbers Army,” which executes the “cutting of the log” after every Timbers goal. Seven of the squad’s eight wins have come at home this season, with the only away victory being the most recent one against the Whitecaps.

“I think we definitely have one of the most exciting, if not the most exciting atmosphere, in the MLS,” the forward said. “I think there is a good history here. I mean, soccer has been around this city for a long time. The fans are wonderful, I think they really appreciate soccer in this state. And we have a good tradition with the cutting of the log so it is just a great atmosphere. We sell out pretty much every game that we have. It’s just really a great fan base to play for.”

Now performing admirably in the MLS, Dike said he still carries with him much of the advice received from Clark as a student-athlete at Notre Dame.

“I think he is responsible for a lot of how I play now and a lot of the ideas I have in my head,” Dike said. “I think he is just a really good soccer brain and a really good teacher … A lot of things he has taught me are stuck in my head and I still think about it all every day. I still talk to him every couple of weeks and hear some of his thoughts on things, hear about his life and hear about how things are going up there. I think he is just a good soccer teacher … he knows how to communicate with his players and motivate his players. He creates belief in yourself, you know? And that belief in yourself only gets stronger learning from him. So I think a lot of credit for my success is due to him, too.”

This year’s Irish squad has impressed Dike, who has enjoyed following Notre Dame since his departure. Notre Dame (12-3, 4-2 Big East) is currently tied for third in the conference’s Blue Division.

“From what I hear, they are just playing as a team,” Dike said. “It’s just what I said – that’s the one thing that is really hard to find in a competitive environment: to find a team that the chemistry is as good as it can be. I think they have out there a true team playing for each other and playing together, and I don’t think that’s really as easy as people think. I think that’s probably the biggest reason for their success.”

His continued interest in the team is indicative of Dike’s fond memories from his time at Notre Dame. From a five-year span filled with notable events and achievements, one of the most notable memories came at the very end of Dike’s time as a student when he briefly met President Barack Obama.

“That was when we graduated, my year of graduation, 2009,” Dike said. “I was in the front row so I got to meet the president, shake his hand as he was walking by and have a small quick chat with him. But that’s just an amazing experience and I think Notre Dame is just a really good school. I am thankful for Notre Dame for a lot of things. For me it created so many wonderful moments and memories in my life. [Meeting the president], freshman year we got to go to Brazil with the soccer team and play over there – there are so many great experiences from Notre Dame that I will cherish for my whole life.”

Dike and the Portland Timbers will conclude their season Saturday when they host the San Jose Earthquakes.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu