TORONTO – When Toronto FC selected Kyle Bekker with the third overall pick in January's SuperDraft, many were celebrating the beginning of the professional career of a true hometown hero, and perhaps a guy who was the future of the Canadian national team.
On the eve of his first Amway Canadian Championship tournament, the rookie midfielder is ready for his close-up. Bekker says he's focused on two things: getting better as a player and helping TFC achieve their team goals.
“I have just been trying to work hard and to be ready when the coach calls upon me,” Bekker (above right) told MLSsoccer.com ahead of Wednesday's ACC semifinal first leg vs. the Montreal Impact (7:30 pm ET, Sportsnet/TVA Sports). “We now get to play the Impact again and we weren’t too happy with how things went the first time in Montreal. Hopefully we can have a better performance this time around.”
“Overall, I think things are going well for me. I’m just trying to work hard each day in practice and looking forward to the games on the weekend. I just want to keep doing everything that the coaching staff asks of me,” Bekker added.
After making his professional debut in Toronto’s season opening 1-0 loss to Vancouver last month, Bekker has been limited to two substitute appearances for the Reds.
Given that the Oakville, Ontario, native is both Canadian and a high draft pick, many TFC supporters are looking at the Boston College product as a player who needs to be playing regularly in order for him to realize his potential not just as a TFC midfielder, but also as a possible core performer for the national team.
According to Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen, where a player is from and where he was drafted mean little in the grand scheme of things. Bekker, like all of the players on his squad, is going to have to earn his minutes and then capitalize on his opportunities when he gets them.
“It doesn’t matter what people expect,” Nelsen told MLSsoccer.com. “What matters is what is in and about this club. It’s about his teammates and everybody at Toronto Football Club.
"Over the last three to four weeks, Kyle has been great. It’s hard when there are a lot of expectations on certain players and sometimes it can kind of affect you mentally. He has to learn, like everybody, that the professional environment has different standards, that it is more ruthless and that it is about coming to work every day. You can’t take days off.”
“To Kyle’s credit, he is adapting brilliantly. He has been fantastic and I have no doubt that he will be an incredible player in the future when it is his time.”
With experienced and established veterans such as Robert Earnshaw, Terry Dunfield, Danny Califf and Darren O’Dea on Toronto’s roster, Nelsen sees the perfect role models for young players such Bekker to learn the ins and outs of being a top level professional.
“I think they have to have strong characters around the club and quality senior players, which we have here. They are coming from being, I suppose, big fishes in small ponds to being smaller fish in big ponds,” Nelsen said. “When you see the work ethic of the older guys and that their standards are a bit different, it helps. It helps young guys realize that they have to be patient. It is a whole different world now.”
“They are experienced players, so they have a lot of knowledge. I try to ask them as many questions as I can, so I can improve all of the little things in the game. I’m just trying to get that much smarter,” Bekker said.
With Toronto currently missing some key players due to injury and in the midst of a run of six games in 18 days, in four cities and over two competitions, the likelihood is high that Bekker is going to get his chance to impress at some point over the next couple of weeks.
“Everybody is going to play. And they have to understand that when they get their opportunity, they have to take it. There are a lot of games coming up and everybody will be playing,” Nelsen said.