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TFC's Bekker survives soccer lows before reaching its heights

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The Canadian Press
1/24/2013 4:17:42 PM
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- MVP of the MLS Combine. Making Canadian soccer history by being drafted third overall by Toronto FC. Called up by the Canadian national team.

It's been a banner month for Kyle Bekker.

But the 22-year-old midfielder from Oakville, Ont., has had his share of bumps along his soccer road.

As a teen, he was frustrated at the lack of attention he got from national age-group teams before the Olympic (under-23) team. Given his success today, it's seems a strange omission.

"I'm not too sure," he says with a chuckle when asked about it. "You're going to have to ask someone else about that."

Then the lack of a European Union passport cost him a chance to stick with Ajax as a teenager. It was frustration he felt again recently during a tryout with England's Crystal Palace.

"There's been a lot of highs and a lot of lows," Bekker said in an interview.

The good times have been rolling recently, taking Bekker on quite a soccer journey. After Boston College's season ended, he had his December tryout with Crystal Palace.

"It was amazing," Bekker said. "It's just another level in England."

He got to train with the likes of 20-year-old winger Wilfried Zaha, a target of Manchester United during the transfer window with the Red Devils reportedly willing to pay 12 million pounds.

"Just an unbelievable experience to play with him," said Bekker.

But, not for the first time, Bekker's lack of a European Union passport made things difficult.

"It's been a little upsetting at times," he acknowledged. "I've gone in, I've shown well and they've said everything I was doing is the right thing. It's just this one thing is holding me back.

"Now signing in the MLS, I don't really have to focus so much on that. Now the task at hand is playing at TFC and breaking into that team."

So since mid-November, Bekker's itinerary has read Boston-London-Toronto-Fort Lauderdale-Indianapolis-Toronto-Boston-Scottsdale.

"It's been a busy few months," he said with a smile.

His frequent flyer numbers will continue to climb after his Canadian team commitments. Bekker and the other Toronto FC players here will head north for to take care of some club commitments before returning around and flying to Orlando for MLS pre-season.

After his Crystal Palace experience, Bekker signed an MLS contract and went to the combine in Florida where he was named MVP. Then it was off to Indianapolis for the draft.

Bekker has impressed at the Canadian camp, sweeping accurate passes around the field. He clearly has vision.

"He's quality," said interim national team coach Colin Miller.

Bekker is equally poised off the field. He handles interviewers with ease, answering questions as they come without giving too much away.

"It's all fun, it's nice. It comes with the job," he said of the media attention. "But I don't get too wrapped up in it."

While confident in his abilities, Bekker knows he has a long way to go.

"It's now what I do with it, to make sure it keeps happening," he added.

Bekker was part of a Canadian under-23 team last March that upset the U.S. and came within one win of qualifying for the London Olympics.

Bekker, Nana Attakora, Doneil Henry, Andres Fresenga, Philippe Davies, Russell Teibert and Evan James -- all part of this current Canadian camp -- started in the 3-1 loss to Mexico in the semifinal that knocked the Canadians out of Olympic qualification.

"That's the first time I really put on a Canadian jersey. It's something I will never forget," Bekker said.

The CONCACAF champion Mexicans went on to win Olympic gold, defeating Brazil 2-1 in the final.

"Probably the best side I've played against, to date," Bekker said. "I don't think I've ever ran so much in my entire life."

"I think we showed well," he added. "I think we did our country proud. Everyone worked their ass off. I don't think anybody could walk after that game, they just ran so much."

Bekker's national team history is limited. He had a brief stint with the under-15 side in 2005 and then nothing until last year's Olympic team.

He felt ignored by Canadian selectors

"Definitely at a younger age -- 15, 16, 17, just all the guys I was playing with were getting called in."

But once he got over the rankle, it was time to see what he needed to do to improve. And he just got on with his game.

"It helped me, it sort of pushed me on," he said of the lack of attention. "But I sort of forgot about it, put it in the back of my mind.

"To get the (under-23) call-up was amazing."

As was this one, from the senior squad.

"I was excited, to say the least," said Bekker.

Soccer has always been Bekker's game, fuelled in part by older brother Lee who also played. Kyle played for the Oakville Blue Stars, switching to Sigma FC in suburban Mississauga when he was 15.

Sigma, also home to fellow TFC draft choice Emery Welshman, helped Bekker along his soccer journey.

"I owe a lot to those guys," Bekker said.

"They sort of took me in at 15, 16 when I wasn't really too happy. I wasn't really having fun in my soccer and I kind of almost wanted to leave the game. But I went in there, it was a great environment, it's very professional. They focus on the technical side of everything, and very tactical. I did well."

Bekker was part of the Ontario team but was not getting much live from national selectors.

"I just wasn't getting any looks. I really wasn't having any fun. I felt like I as putting a lot into it and getting absolutely nothing back."

So he just focused on his club team.

In 2007, he toured the Netherlands as a 16-year-old with his Sigma side and was asked by Ajax to stay. He spent six months there, only to have to go home due to his passport issues.

"I was part of the academy, I was playing every single day, I was training. That was unbelievable. I was living on my own in Amsterdam at 16. It was a great life experience."

It was also important in his soccer education, helping teach him about what it means to be a professional.

It also taught him again how to get over disappointment. He says he was "devastated" at having to come home.

"It was tough, it was very tough. You're leaving high school and you're sort of thinking you're starting this big career. And then it kind of gets cut real short. And then you come back (home) down. Yeah, there's a few weeks of being upset but with my family, and the guys at Sigma and all my friends around me, you just pick yourself back up and try again."

Boston College became his next soccer port of call.

"It's a great school academically," he said. "They play in the ACC which is one of the top conferences. And it was a place where I was able to go in and play right away. I was able to be a big player from the second I set foot on the campus which was important to me. I was playing big games against guys who are in the league (MLS) now and who were in the draft with me."

He played in 80 matches and made 79 starts for the Eagles. He ranks second all-time at the school in assists (22), eighth in points (56) and 10th in goals (17).

He relishes the role of playmaking midfielder.

"I love to get on the ball and love to be in behind the strikers, creating."

His college play garnered attention. He trained with Montreal, Seattle and Toronto prior to his senior year at Boston College.

Kyle Bekker and Don Garber (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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