It was when Tarik Walker was hurt that Baltimore Bays coach Kevin Healey saw the true nature of his hobbled star. Healey liked what he saw.
"He was the one grabbing balls and uniforms and loading them on the bus after a road game," Healey said. "He was the star, but he was eager to share the dirty work. He showed he cared about the team and didn't have to slam lockers after a loss to do it."
At last, Walker's hamstring injury is healing. The Bays (4-9) will go into tonight's game against the Washington Mustangs at UMBC Stadium with Walker as their leading scorer with four goals -- all in the past five games.
"Now that he appears to be over the hamstring," said teammate Billy Ronson, "Tarik is playing out of his skin."
Walker suffered the injury in the Spirit's final home game, April 1 against the Harrisburg Heat. After sitting out the opening game of the playoffs a week later against Harrisburg, Walker tried to play the next night and aggravated the injury in a defeat that proved to be the Spirit's final game of the season.
When the Spirit's season ended, Walker began rehab under trainer Marty McGinty. He played in the Bays' opener a week later, reinjured his leg in the first half and sat out the next two games.
"We decided to limit his practice to save him for games," said Healey. "That way, there was less chance of a strain. He did his best to perform, but his fitness went down because he wasn't practicing.
"In recent weeks, he's been able to train full time with the team and his fitness is coming back. His performance is improving, too. And so is ours."
Walker first joined the Bays last year in midseason after a career at Virginia Tech where he was the school's second leading all-time scorer. Despite his abbreviated season, he led the Bays in scoring, then was on loan to the Spirit for the NPSL season.
Opponent: Washington Mustangs
Site: UMBC Stadium
Outlook: The Bays, 4-9 and seventh in the U.S. Interregional Soccer League's Atlantic Division with six games remaining, still have a chance to qualify for the four-team playoffs. Washington (7-4) is coming off a 3-2 win over the Charlotte Eagles. The first 400 youngsters 16 and under will receive free World Cup pins.