Home NASL & USL Ottawa Fury The return of Drew Beckie

The return of Drew Beckie

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It was Canada Day of last year, and Marc Dos Santos had just been named the first-ever head coach of Ottawa Fury’s NASL squad.

One of the first things Dos Santos did was to sit down and make a list of players who had played with the Fury, either with the PDL side or with various youth teams. The thought process was simple: He was identifying players who might be able to come back and help the NASL side in its debut season. Players who knew the franchise. Players who knew the city.

Eddie Edward, an Ottawa native and a standout right back with FC Edmonton, was on the list. But he was unavailable. Carl Haworth, the former Montreal Impact supplemental draft choice, was scoring at better than a goal-per-game pace for Ottawa’s PDL side. He was put on the list and would eventually be signed by the Fury for the 2014 NASL season.

And, Dos Santos was also intrigued by another former Fury player: Drew Beckie. Dos Santos knew that Beckie was getting no playing time with the Columbus Crew, and that there would be a good chance the Regina-born defender would be available in the off-season.

“We knew he was in Columbus and he was not playing a lot,” says Dos Santos. “We knew he was struggling to get playing time, and we felt the chances were excellent that we could bring him back to Ottawa.

“Marc made contact with me during the season,” recalls Beckie. “He wasn’t trying to poke any fires, he just wanted to let me know the opportunity would be there if things didn’t  work out in Columbus. And it didn’t work out in Columbus, because of my injuries. It ended up being a frustrating year.”

After a meteoric rise at the 2013 MLS Combine, the Saskatchewan-born University of Denver product was taken in the second round of that year’s SuperDraft by the Crew. But after a Columbus coaching change and series of injuries suffered by the defender, the writing was on the wall — and Beckie was released at the end of the campaign, without ever making it into an MLS game.

Beckie would indeed be available for the Fury.

There was only one issue; because Beckie was getting no time in MLS, Dos Santos couldn’t go and see the defender play. So, Dos Santos leaned on fellow members of the coaching fraternity; he talked to Canadian Soccer Association Technical Director Tony Fonseca, who coached Beckie with the national U-23 team in the most recent round of Olympic qualifiers. Dos Santos spoke to the Fury coaches who worked with Beckie at the PDL level back in 2012. The reviews were similar: Beckie was an intelligent and versatile player. He could play on the right side or in the centre of the defence.

And the coach’s gut feeling was right; Beckie did want to come back to Ottawa.

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“He is a very intelligent kid,” says Dos Santos. “He knows he needs the opportunity to get playing time. He had to get to a place where he has a better chance of playing. At his age, the most important thing is the ability to be able to play. No one here is guaranteed playing time, but the chance to compete for playing time.”

And Dos Santos wishes more of Canada’s young players would follow Beckie’s example, to sign with a team where they can hold realistic expectations for first-team opportunities.

As a Canadian who wants to see the national program improve, Dos Santos is frustrated to see so many of this country’s young players on reserve squads in MLS or in Europe.

“Look at the last game Canada played under coach Benito Floro (a late January friendly that came at the end of a camp held in Florida, a 2-0 win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers). If you looked at the whole squad, put them all together, they’ve played maybe 20 games. Karl Ouimette, a defender with the Impact, played in seven games last season. Kyle Bekker hardly gets the chance to play with Toronto. There are  lots of opportunities for those players, who are 22 or 23, in NASL. We see Canadians and they go to the second division in Germany, and they don’t play in a game for three years. It’s the same thing with Fresenga (Andres Fresenga, the fullback signed by the Fury). Same thing with Carl Haworth. Same thing with Marcel (DeBellis, a keeper inked by Ottawa). At this stage of their careers, they need minutes.”

It would be easy to look at the fact that Beckie didn’t get into an MLS game and then pile on the Crew. But the defender doesn’t see it that way. He sees himself as a victim of unfortunate circumstance.

“The big thing for a young player is the ability to get a chance to play. In Columbus, I did get that chance. I lost that chance to being injured. I played the first two games in preseason, things were going well. I was slotted right behind the guys starting on the backline. If one of them went out, then I would be going right in.”

But, before the preseason ended, Beckie felt a tweak in his hamstring. And, being a young player fighting for a job, he decided to play through the pain. He admits that, had he been a veteran player, he likely wouldn’t have played through the injury. He would have sat down.

And, you can see where this script went; Beckie’s minor injury led to a serious injury. The stiffness and soreness stretched all the way up through his abdomen. He was shut down. And he never really got back to 100 per cent through the season. Then, in September, the Crew announced that the club had parted ways with coach Robert Warzycha, who had championed Beckie.

A new regime came into the club, and Beckie expected — and got — the worst.

“The coaches changed, the team went in a different direction,” says Beckie. “The new coach comes in and he sees me as a draft pick who didn’t pan out.”

Beckie has signed a one-year deal plus a one-year club option with the Fury. He hasn’t given up on the dream of going to MLS.

“I would eventually like to get back; but I can’t think about that right now. Right now I have to think how I can do my best for Ottawa.”

And, while he’s happy to return to a city he knows from his time in PDL, he doesn’t want to feel, well, settled.

“Definitely it’s great to go back to that city. It will be nice to be, well, really the thing I don’t want is to be comfortable. I want to be settled in the city, but not settled, if you understand. I want to be ready to compete. The spot is not there waiting for me. It has to be earned. And I’m ready to work for it.

“But it’s excellent to have Andres (Fresenga) and Carl (Haworth) as teammates. They’re players I know from the U-20 and U-23 levels, and I’m comfortable being around them. Actually, its amazing to see the kind of players we’ve already signed. I don’t know how Marc is doing it. To get a player like (former Charleston Battery star) Nicki Paterson, the Brazilians, a player from Portugal. How does Marc find these guys? It’s awesome.”

Beckie was born in Saskatchewan but was raised in Colorado. When Beckie was very young, his father got work in Colorado and th family moved. Tragically, Beckie’s father lost his battle with cancer when his son was just 11 years old. But Beckie gets back to Saskatchewan on annual basis, and his grandparents have a farm in Kenaston, on the Louis Riel Trail about an hour and a half northwest of Regina. The kid who grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains still has a prairie heart. Now it’s his time to show that, when healthy, he can be an impact player at the professional level.

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