Janine Beckie: From U.S. cut to emerging Canadian soccer star
Offensive threat propels medal-hungry Canada at Rio Olympics
By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
When John Herdman took over the Canadian women's soccer program in 2011, he tasked assistant coach Andrew Olivieri with scouring U.S. schools for under-23 players with Canadian ties.
Olivieri unearthed Janine Beckie, a Colorado-born forward whose parents hailed from Saskatchewan. Beckie had just been released by the U.S. under-20 program, allowing the Canadian Soccer Association to make their pitch.
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"When I got a chance to see some of her physical metrics, her speed scores were just out of the park," Herdman recalled. "Then you look at her technique. Then you dig a little deeper to see she's got it in the family. Her brother [Drew] was playing in MLS at the time ... So we got her capped as soon as we could because she felt she might have something."
Since making her senior debut in November 2014, Beckie has paid back that Canadian faith with 12 goals in 23 appearances and become one of Herdman's most potent offensive threats.
Beckie has nine goals in 14 games this year, including three strikes in three outings at the Olympics where she set a Games record for fastest goal just 20 seconds into Canada's opening contest against Australia. The 21-year-old — she turns 22 on Aug. 20 — has also played provider, setting up Sophie Schmidt in Canada's 1-0 quarter-final win over France on Friday in Sao Paulo.
On Tuesday, she will look to help lead 10th-ranked Canada past No. 2 Germany and into the gold-medal game.
A good finisher, Beckie has impressed with her ability to corral the ball and then make it do what she wants. Against Zimbabwe, she acrobatically redirected a Josee Belanger cross in for a goal. In the France game, she hauled in a Shelina Zadorsky pass before delivering an accurate chip to Schmidt at the far post.
The road to Rio was not been without its bumps, however.
"With Janine, it's been a journey in the team. It's been a two-year process," said Herdman, who did not select Beckie for last summer's World Cup.
Beckie says missing out on the World Cup was hard, but it was the right decision.
"I look back now and I'm incredibly thankful for John making that decision to not put me on that roster," she said. "Because looking back at it now, I wasn't ready to play in a World Cup. Technically, emotionally, physically, I just wasn't there. And so I've come a really long way in a year."
"It was definitely a hard decision for both of us," she added. "There were emotions back and forth and he was really great about it, made sure that I knew that I was someone that he was investing in for the long haul. He gave me that news in the best way possible and I'm very thankful for that."
Herdman points to last summer's Pan-American Games as a key moment for Beckie.
'Flourished' at Pan Am Games
"We made a big decision not to take her into the World Cup squad," said Herdman. "And that wasn't about trying to punish a player. We always knew she had the gifts. She just wasn't ready for that particular event at that time."
Canada sent a young team to the Pan-Ams and Herdman felt she would be more comfortable in that environment.
"I think she flourished there," he said. "In that moment, we realized 'Look she's got a real good crack at the Olympics. You can see that there's real potential here."'
"I think with her it's just about feeling comfortable in the culture," he added. "The more comfortable she feels, the more confident she feels on the pitch. And these girls do a great job at welcoming these young players in and keeping bright lines about how the culture should operate.
"So I think there's a lot more to come from her. I think what we've seen from Janine is just real clinical finishing. It's been outstanding. But there's a still bit more and she knows that."
That includes working off the ball and contributing to the defence, something Beckie did with enthusiasm against France.
"But what I love about her is she just go towards it every day," said Herdman. "She wants to get better. So I think right at the heart of that is there's a real drive in Janine to be the best player she can be. And she goes towards that every day, she looks for opportunities to get better and that's all you can ask for."
Beckie, whose father died in 2001 after suffering from melanoma, grew up in Colorado but her Canadian roots remain strong. Most of her relatives remain in Saskatchewan and she has visited them often.
These days home is Texas. She is a member of the NWSL's Houston Dash, having starred at Texas Tech where coach Tom Stone remains a mentor. A three-time all-American, she departed as the program's all-time leading scorer, with 57 goals.
She met her boyfriend — former Texas Tech punter Taylor Symmank — in the training room there. He hopes to make a future in the NFL, having already tried out for both the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles.