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Beckie back and firing after ACL injury

Janine Beckie Janine Beckie - Getty Images

Canadian international Janine Beckie had a dream return to the pitch 366 days after tearing her ACL.

Subbing into the second half of the Portland Thorns’ season opener on Mar. 16, Beckie buried two goals, including a screamer from distance.

Just don’t ask her to recall them.

“You hear athletes at the top of their games talk about that they feel like they were in a flow state when they were playing. To be honest, I don't remember anything about that for those 45 minutes. I don't even remember scoring,” she said. “I think that's just because I was so locked in.”

Over the weekend, Beckie made another much-anticipated return, starting for Canada against Brazil at the SheBelieves Cup in Atlanta.

It was Beckie’s first game for the national team since Feb. 22, 2023, in a match against Japan at that year’s edition of the SheBelieves Cup. She ended up tearing her ACL a few weeks later in an NWSL preseason game.

Beckie, a versatile player largely used as forward and wingback, played the first half of Canada’s match on Saturday. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, with Canada advancing on penalties to face the U.S. in the final on Tuesday.

According to Sofascore, Beckie finished with 44 touches on the ball, and also had a pair of scoring chances in the opening 15 minutes.

“All credit to Janine. It’s a physical game to come back from such a long time out,” head coach Bev Priestman said after Saturday’s match.

Beckie had originally targeted February’s CONCACAF W Gold Cup for a return to the national team, but both she and Canada’s staff felt it was best she remain in Portland for training and to pick up preseason minutes.

“I think Janine’s looked superb. I think we made the right decision to leave her, to just get some flow before the season kicked off,” Priestman told the media prior to start of the SheBelieves Cup.

That decision also allowed Beckie to come firing out of the gates for Portland’s season opener against Kansas City last month. She entered the game for the start of the second half (replacing Canadian great Christine Sinclair), with her team down 3-1 to the Current.

“The scoreline was a little discouraging,” Beckie said with a smile. “But I guess when you say there's nothing to lose, there's really no situation where that is more applicable.”

Kansas City would score two more goals before Beckie was able to bury in the 71st minute, which was also her first goal as a Thorn. Her second tally was a beautiful shot from distance in stoppage time, the bookend on a wild 5-4 win by the Current.

By happenstance, the match also landed a year and a day after Beckie tore her ACL.

“Just taking my first steps onto the field and being able to have an impact right off the bat was a really proud moment for me,” Beckie told TSN. “I had felt kind of like a caged animal and I was ready to just go run around and do what I could.

“It was better for me personally than I could have ever imagined, coming back and scoring two goals.”

And as her impact on the scoresheet indicates, Beckie feels like she has come back stronger than ever.

“Another cliché – I think a lot of athletes are like, ‘Oh, going to be back and better than ever,’” she said. “I do feel like I'm a different player than before I got injured, and I'm just really excited to continue to explore that and kind of channel that confidence.”

As if often the case for elite athletes returning from long-term injuries, a big part of Beckie’s journey was the mental aspect. But for her, struggles began before she injured her ACL.

“I was very burnt out. Like mentally, I was really not in a good spot,” she said.

The injury offered Beckie a chance to reflect on her passion for the sport. She got to experience life outside of soccer, spending more time with her family and fiancé. While rehabbing her body, Beckie also dug into the mental aspect of being a professional athlete more than she ever had before.

“Probably sounds weird to a lot of people, but I'm really grateful that I got injured because it showed me a lot of things that I needed to see and relit that fire for me,” she said. “I have a whole new perspective on gratitude, to have physical ability to play and call this my job. And that probably sounds really cliché, but it's super true.”

So many aspects of the injury were a double-edged sword for Beckie, and missing last summer’s World Cup, where she was expected to play a major role for Canada, was no exception. Along with her versatility on the pitch, Beckie has 36 international goals, which at the time was second-most among active players for Canada.

Beckie, who has 102 international appearances, is a key leader on and off the pitch, so much so that there were discussions with Canada Soccer personnel about her still travelling with the team to the tournament in Australia. Ultimately, Beckie decided to focus on her rehab back home. She stressed she didn’t want to take away any resources from her teammates, but another worry loomed large.

“From a mental perspective, it's not something I thought that I could handle – to be in that environment, having such a fresh injury and not being able to play,” she said.

“I'm very grateful that I'm a big piece of this team. I think having been removed from that so suddenly, I'm not sure I would have been able to handle that in a way that would have made me a helpful piece of the puzzle.”

She called last summer’s tournament “agonizing to watch” due to her inability to help. But she also cited it as a key source of motivation.

“I knew that as long as I did the work, I was going to get an opportunity to be in that position again,” she said. “I could probably write a book about all the things I've learned over the last year. But definitely the thing that I'm trying to hold on to the most is just the gratitude and the gratefulness piece.”

That gratefulness extends to Canada’s staff, who brought her into several team camps last fall as part of her reintegration process with the team.

“I think it was incredibly smart of the staff to come up with that idea… so that the first time I was coming back into the environment, it wasn't me seeing these people for the first time in over a year,” she said.

The decision helped Beckie keep up to date with tactics, as the team shifted formations after their early World Cup exit.

“I think it was important from a confidence, integration, and just feeling part of a journey towards an Olympic Games,” Priestman said. “It just really helps it feel more natural in terms of understanding the tactics and where we've gone to, the culture off the pitch, where we've taken that to – all these things matter.”

As Beckie returns to duty with the national team, there are more adjustments to be made. Veterans like Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt have moved on, leaving a new leadership group comprised by the likes of Beckie, captain Jessie Fleming, Ashley Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan, Kailen Sheridan and Quinn, who also all played together at the under-20 level.

“I love that role of leadership. I like to be relied on and needed and valued in that position. …What I think is so great about this group specifically is there's room for everyone to be a leader in their own place, and I definitely don't think that's true for every team,” Beckie said. “There is a really cool kind of new era energy around, and hopefully, that reflects on the pitch.”

The team will be bringing that new energy into this summer’s Olympics. While the Canadians enter as the defending gold medallists, they’re also coming off a disappointing World Cup, where they failed to advance to the knockout round.

“I think this team has a really, really special way of bouncing back from frustration and disappointment. I don’t know what it is in the water that they give us, but there's something about this team in the Olympics,” Beckie said.

“For the first time, we're going to be the ones with the target on our back… To go into a tournament as reigning champions, there's high expectations, but I absolutely feel like this group can go back and win another gold medal.”