Janine Beckie was training with USA’s U-20 side when she received a call one day from Andrew Olivieri, the head of the Canadian Soccer Association’s youth set-up, who was on the lookout for new talent. He had an offer to make to the talented forward, who was born in Highlands Ranch, Colorado: to play instead for the country where her parents and three brothers were born.
Shedding more light on the proposal, Beckie told FIFA.com: “He asked me if I wanted to join them and do some training, with no strings attached. If I didn’t like it, then that was fine. But I did like it. In fact, I loved it. I felt right at home.”
The forward was called up for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2014 not long afterwards, and on Wednesday she was in Sao Paulo, scoring the fastest goal in the history of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, after only 19 seconds. It was a strike that set Canada on the road to a 2-0 win over Australia in Group F of the Rio 2016 competition, and which seemed to justify Olivieri’s decision to pursue Beckie, and hers to accept his invitation.
“Absolutely,” replied the player, unable to conceal her delight, especially with her name now in the Olympic record books. “A record is a record. It’s exciting. Today we can celebrate, but it’s back to work tomorrow.”
Her day would have been even more perfect had she not missed a second-half penalty, with the score still at 1-0. With team captain Christine Sinclair, the top scorer at the last Women's Olympic Football Tournament, also on the pitch at the time, it may have surprised some to see the 21-year-old step up to take the kick. “I take penalties,” explained Beckie. “I missed and it happens, but it’s been a while since I last missed. It would have been really great to score another. I’m going to keep on taking them if I can.”
Canada coach John Herdman later said that Beckie practises spot-kicks constantly and added that he had no problem with the decision taken on the pitch. “She’s been looking very confident in training, and I’ve been encouraging them to take that kind of responsibility,” said Herdman before adding that he felt Sinclair’s response to the situation was very positive for the team as a whole: “I bet a lot of people were asking what they were doing. Maybe it would be worse if the result had ended differently, but Christine let her take it and showed that the team doesn’t revolve around her.”
Herdman has every confidence in Beckie’s abilities, saying: “She’s come on so much in the last year and a half she has spent in our programme. You can see that she’s got more composure on the pitch. And she’s going to grow as the tournament goes on.”
Though Beckie’s main job is to attack, she had other responsibilities to shoulder against the Australians, helping her team dig deep in defence following left-back Shelina Zadorsky’s sending-off. Despite that setback, the Canadians maintained their shape with two compact lines of four, resisting the urge to sit too deep.
That fortitude was a feature of Canada’s opening outing of the competition. As anxious as they were to open the scoring, Herdman’s changes showed no little patience in defence, with Beckie more than willing to do her bit. “Obviously, we needed to play a more defensive game, and we had to change our mindset. I had to drop back, especially as their full-backs were pushing up. If we hadn’t kept it nice and tight at the back, it would have been hard to win.”
Herdman would no doubt have been pleased to hear the young Beckie say that. Despite challenging circumstances, his players came through the test, much to his delight: “I’m very proud of what these young players have done today,” he told FIFA.com. “In terms of our tactical discipline, we played a fantastic second half. What I thought was great today about Janine was that she showed the grit to go and play a more physical game, which is what we’ve been challenging her to do.”
As her performance showed, Olivieri was absolutely right to make that call.