Beckie, Huitema take different paths to Canadian women's soccer team

Janine Beckie and Jordyn Huitema are two emerging stars on the Canadian women's soccer team but their paths to reach that stage were anything but similar.

Both forwards continue learning ahead of 2019 FIFA women's World Cup

Janine Beckie, left, and Jordyn Huitema, right, should be fixtures on the Canadian women's national soccer team for years to come. (Canada Soccer)

Janine Beckie, 23, and Jordyn Huitema, 16, represent the present and future of the Canadian women's soccer team but their paths to the national squad couldn't be more different.

Born and raised in Highlands Ranch, Colo., Beckie came up through the American soccer system. When she was released by the U.S. U-20 program, the Canadian Soccer Association swooped in.

Beckie was eligible to play for Canada due to her dual citizenship.

Her parents are Canadian and wearing the maple leaf was a proper way to honour her late father, who died of cancer when Beckie was just eight years old.

Beckie didn't know what to expect walking into the Canadian locker room for the first time as she had such a different back story compared to the other women.

"I was sitting around watching the '99 U.S. World Cup team win in L.A. — those are the memories that I have. I grew up in red, white, and blue — I didn't grow up in red," Beckie told CBC Sports.

Homegrown talent

Huitema is one of six teenagers from Canada Soccer's EXCEL program who were named to the Canadian roster ahead of their home-and-away friendlies against the U.S. beginning on Thursday night (10 p.m. ET) at Vancouver at B.C. Place.

The program is a pipeline for the national squad bringing together the most talented youth players from across the country and progressively developing them through different age groups.

Huitema, centre, was showered by teammates after scoring her first pair of goals with the senior squad. (Canada Soccer)

The Chilliwack, B.C., native represented Canada at almost every level before making her senior team debut this past March in the Algrave Cup final.

Her first junior appearance came at the 2014 CONCACAF Girls' U-15 championship where Huitema scored the game-winner in the penalty shoot-out to give Canada the inaugural title.

Huitema is carried by teammate Teni Akindoju after her penalty kick in the shootout gave Canada the inaugural CONCACAF Girls’ U-15 championship. (Canada Soccer)

"I still remember the moment as if it were yesterday. [My coach asked], 'Who wants to take a penalty shot at the end of the game?' There was about three or four people that raised their hand and I was not one of them. I hid in the back not wanting to rise up in that moment but when my coach called on me and said, 'Jordyn, I think we can trust you to take a PK,' and I said, 'OK,'" Huitema recalled.

'He's the reason I am where I am'

As a multi-sport high school athlete, Beckie was having a contemplation of her own. She played basketball and ran track until she went to college but realized in Grade 10 that she could have a future in soccer and began to take that more seriously.

Perhaps that's why Beckie wasn't highly recruited but that didn't matter to Texas Tech coach Tom Stone, who offered her a scholarship.

He bet on Beckie and she delivered — becoming a three-time all-American and the program's all-time leading scorer with 57 goals.

"I don't have words for the impact he had on my career — he's the reason I am where I am. He saw what was inside of me before I did — took a chance, recruited me, and gave me the scholarship that I needed to attend school. If it wasn't for a scholarship, I wouldn't have been able to go to college," Beckie said.

"I consider him a good friend, mentor, and someone that really helped me on the field but more so in life. I'm just very grateful for the lessons he's taught me. The things that we've gone through together [as a] player [and] coach is something that I will cherish forever."

But it's the 2016 Olympics in Rio where Beckie showed the world that a star was born. The Canadian forward scored three goals in the tournament and helped Canada to an Olympic bronze medal. She also set a Games record for fastest goal just 20 seconds into Canada's opening contest against Australia.

Continuous learning 

Huitema remembers watching Canada's thrilling semifinal match at the 2012 London Olympics against the U.S. and knowing then that she wanted to be a part of that.

Playing alongside those she grew up watching is still surreal for Huitema. She knows it's an opportunity of a lifetime and if there's one thing that she's learned from them, it's to absorb everything.

"You never stop learning because the sport never stops teaching you. Even to this day, [I'm] learning new strategies and ways to play the game — just never getting comfortable with where I am and knowing that there's more [room] to grow," Huitema said.

Beckie has the added luxury of playing alongside 2015 FIFA World Player of the Year, Carli Lloyd, on her NWSL club and cherishes the opportunity to learn from one of the game's best.

"Everyone has their own way to do things but from what I've seen of Carli, there's a reason why she is where she is. She has high belief in her abilities and that confidence carries her through day-by-day," Beckie said.

Beckie, left, and Lloyd are both members of the National Women's Soccer League's Houston Dash. (Stephen M. Dowell/Associated Press)

Huitema hopes to represent Canada in two years at the next Women's World Cup and vows to keep pushing ahead if she isn't selected.

It's exactly what Beckie did when she failed to make the 2015 roster. She remembers sitting down with head coach John Herdman and being told she wasn't ready even though deep inside she disagreed.

"I would ask John to do nothing different. He was 100 per cent right. I wasn't ready for that tournament — to be part of that team. It was a fire to get going and be ready for the Olympics. I wasn't sure what my role was going to be and it was a bigger than I expected but it wasn't a burden," Beckie said.

About the Author

Chicco Nacion returns to his birthplace of Toronto after growing up in Niagara Falls. He graduated from the Master of Media in Journalism and Communication program at the University of Western Ontario. Follow him on Twitter @chicco_n


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