Canada's Janine Beckie, Man City on trophy hunt, face Leicester City in FA Cup quarters
26-year-old national team member signed 2-year extension in April
When Janine Beckie was preparing for another season wearing the sky blue of Manchester City, it dawned on her that the 2020-21 FA Women's Super League season would be her sixth as a professional footballer.
"Whoa! That popped up pretty quickly," the 26-year-old Canadian international said in a recent interview ahead of Sunday's FA Cup quarter-final against Leicester City.
As the saying goes, time flies when you're having fun.
Armed with a new two-year extension signed in April, Beckie is embarking on perhaps her most exciting and challenging season yet.
Though City lost last year's WSL title to Chelsea in a COVID-19-shortened season (based on a points-per-game formula), they've already locked down a spot in the UEFA Women's Champions League and are going for their third FA Cup in four years.
Should they defeat Leicester CIty at Sutton Park on Sunday, it sets up a home semifinal against the winner of north London rivals, Tottenham and Arsenal.
"As an athlete you want to play for championships and for trophies. Just being in England, to participate in the FA Cup, it's quite historic. It's the tournament that carries the most weight," Beckie said. "It's incredibly difficult to win a league title in the WSL or the Premier League, but to get all the way to the FA Cup final and retain that trophy would be really special for us. We definitely have the squad to do it."
WATCH | Janine Beckie discusses FA Cup journey with CBC Sports' Signa Butler:
Manchester City received a talent injection in August with the addition of World Cup champions Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis from the United States. The move reunites Beckie, a dual Canadian-American citizen, with Lavelle, a former youth teammate in Colorado.
"Whenever you bring in world-class players, it's obviously exciting for everyone around them," said Beckie. "And two more North Americans on the team, so I was happy."
Another City splash saw UEFA player of the year Lucy Bronze and fellow England international fullback Alex Greenwood join the club from French powerhouse and Champions League winners, Olympique Lyonnais.
"When you look at the investment the club has made in our team, this is probably the most depth we've ever had, especially since I've been here," she said. "When you look at our bench. There's going to be world class players on the bench every weekend. That's what you need to win multiple trophies in a season."
🇨🇦🇺🇸💙 <a href="https://t.co/dFfkeiUHQk">pic.twitter.com/dFfkeiUHQk</a>—@janinebeckie
Playing in Europe, and particularly the WSL, has been an attractive option for players wanting a professional training environment and a full slate of games, especially with the Tokyo Olympics on the horizon next summer (not to mention the way the pandemic is playing out in the U.S.). Barring any suspension of play in England, the WSL offers a 22-game season from September through May, plus FA Cup and UEFA Champions League fixtures.
Like Lavelle and Mewis, other American stars have made the move across the pond. Christen Press and Tobin Heath joined Manchester United, while Alex Morgan is on loan with Tottenham.
Earlier this spring, Chelsea announced they'd signed prized Canadian midfielder Jessie Fleming (Beckie jokes she won't hold it against her). Fellow national team member Shelina Zadorsky joined the Hotspurs. Add in striker Adriana Leon, who's been with West Ham since 2019, and there's a growing group of Canadians as well.
WATCH | Leon leads West Ham over Tottenham:
Beckie has been in England the longest. She first joined Man City on a two-year deal in January 2018, with the intention of using the experience to be at the top of her game going into the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.
"For me it's been a challenge. I've had to really clean up my touch, become better technically in almost every area of the game. I'm really happy that I made that decision. My game has come so far since I've been here. I'm just trying to continue to find things to get better at."
It's hard not to notice Beckie's growth as a player. From wearing the Maple Leaf for the first time at the FIFA U-20 World Cup to helping the senior national team win an Olympic bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics, she's become a well-rounded player and leader, scoring 31 goals in 70 international appearances.
While accustomed to being in the spotlight in her professional and international career, nothing can compare to a steamy June night in Paris at the 2019 World Cup. Trailing Sweden 1-0 in their Round of 16 elimination match, Canada was awarded a penalty shot in the 69th minute.
Fans watching at the time may have assumed Chrstine Sinclair would take the spot kick, but the Canadian captain asked Beckie if she wanted to take it. (Sinclair was stopped by veteran Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl at a tournament a few months earlier and said later she felt Beckie would be the better choice.)
Beckie took the penalty and Lindahl guessed correctly, diving to the right with an outstretched hand just before the ball could power into the bottom corner. The Canadians couldn't find an equalizer and their tournament was over.
Even in that lowest moment, Beckie found room to grow as a player.
"It's easier to sit here and speak about it from a positive state of mind," she said. "For a long time and even when I let myself think about it too much, I still get a little sick to my stomach. I did have some sleepless nights early on after that. It's hard not to put it on yourself that you're the one that let the team down. I think I wouldn't be a competitor if I let that go completely.
"But there were also some incredible moments in that tournament and a lot of things as a team that we've taken and moved forward with. We understand that we didn't reach our potential in that tournament. To have another shot and take those lessons with us next summer, hopefully, is important."
WATCH | CBC Sports' Anastasia Bucsis speaks with CWNT member Quinn:
That just over a year later she's able to have perspective like that is why she's been dubbed captain material. Whether it's as a player rep for the women's team or educating herself on how to better support her Black teammates, her leadership shines through. Perhaps the chief candidate to wear the armband after Sinclair's prolific playing career is finished.
Canada has already secured a spot in next summer's Tokyo Olympics. After bronze medals in 2012 and 2016, Beckie says there's no question what the goal is this time around.
"Definitely it's gold. It's No. 1. We've made history going back-to-back podiums. And that's become not good enough in our minds.
"All of us have that deep dream to be world champions and we believe we have the quality and talent to do it."
For now, Beckie's focus is on Man City. The side's new manager Gareth Taylor, the former Welsh international, has told Beckie to dream big in terms of her goals for this season and yes, that means filling the net.
"There's no goal too big. I should be aiming to score lots of goals this season, to have a lot of assists. From a winger position that's obviously very doable," she said. "When you're being defended by the likes of Demi Stokes, Lucy Bronze, Alex Greenwood, a young Esme Morgan, they make my life difficult every day in training. I've definitely put myself in the right position to get the best out of myself and continue to get better.
"At the end of the day, if the team is winning trophies and I'm doing my job, I'll be happy."