June 21st, 2024

Against backdrop of labour dispute, Janine Beckie set to earn 100th cap for Canada

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on February 18, 2023.

Canada forward Janine Beckie (16) attempts a shot on goal as midfielder Jessie Fleming watches during the first half of the team's SheBelieves Cup soccer match against the United States, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Phelan M. Ebenhack

Janine Beckie can earn her 100th cap Sunday when Canada takes on Brazil in Nashville at the SheBelieves Cup. She would probably likely to mark the milestone under different circumstances, however.

The 28-year-old Portland Thorn is one of the Canadian women’s four team representatives – along with captain Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt and Quinn (who goes by one name) – and has been front and centre in the team’s ongoing labour battle with Canada Soccer.

Off the field, Beckie is one of the team’s most respected voices. On the pitch, she is a pacey forward/winger whose ability to deliver crosses has also seen play at fullback and midfielder.

“It’s a great milestone for Janine,” coach Bev Priestman said in a virtual availability Saturday evening. “Her versatility, she could probably play right back, left back, right wing, left wing, midfield, to be honest. I actually think she’s played the (No.) 9 and goalkeeper.”

After scoring twice, Beckie took over in goal for Canada in a 5-2 win against Ecuador at the 2015 Pan American Games when ‘keeper Stephanie Labbe was sent off.

“I think Janine’s true football quality is what makes her so versatile,” Priestman continued. “And then you go and add her athleticism. “¦ She’s not only contributing to this team on the pitch but also off the pitch. She’s grown in her leadership and is just an incredible human being.”

Beckie has 36 goals and 17 assists since making her senior debut in November 2014 at the age of 20.

“There’s a long way to go for Janine, I think that’s the exciting thing,” said Priestman. “She probably hasn’t reached her true potential yet albeit she’s had some incredible performances and been a key contributor to everything this team’s done.”

Beckie and the other Canadian players, who are playing the tournament under protest, wore their training tops inside-out at practice Saturday in Nashville, as they did in Orlando, to hide the Canada Soccer crest.

The Canadian women are demanding the same preparation and backing ahead of the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia this summer as the men did before theirs in Qatar. Both the women’s and men’s teams want Canada Soccer to open its books and explain cuts to both programs in 2023 at a time when the sport is soaring back home.

The labour unrest clearly unsettled Canada in its opening 2-0 loss to the top-ranked U.S. in Orlando on Thursday. The Americans ambushed the sixth-ranked Canadians early and went ahead on a seventh-minute goal by Mallory Swanson.

Canada settled down midway through the first half, only to gift Swanson a second goal in the 34th minute. Sinclair said after the game that the squad “looked like a team that was tired, a team that’s mentally exhausted.”

Priestman said while the move to Music City has provided new surroundings, it had not lifted the cloud of the labour strife.

“It’s new environment, fresh,” the coach said of the mood. “But you know, there is still lingerings. I don’t think I can hide from that. I still feel that and see that.

“However, I think the group know we have to really push now from Game 1 into Game 2 and test ourselves.”

The Brazilians, who beat No. 11 Japan 1-0 in their tournament opener, are a familiar foe.

Brazil hosted a two-game series with Canada in November, with each team registering a 2-1 win. They were the first meetings between the two since Canada edged Brazil 4-3 in a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics after the game ended 0-0.

The Canadian women hold a slight 11-10-7 edge over ninth-ranked Brazil in the all-time series.

Canada lost 2-0 to Brazil in its only other appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in 2021. The Canadians finished third that year, in Priestman’s debut as coach.

Brazil is making its third appearance at the SheBelieves Cup, having finished second in 2021 and fourth in 2019.

Sunday’s game is at Geodis Park, the home of Nashville SC. It opened last May and, with a capacity of 30,000, is the largest soccer-specific stadium in the U.S.

The Americans play Japan in the early game.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2023.

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