(Photograph by: Frederick Breedon, Gerry Images)
Kyle Bekker built his reputation as one of U.S. College soccer's most creative attacking players by scoring countless highlight reel goals and delivering daringly creative passes during his three years as the fulcrum of the Boston College Eagles offence in the tough Atlantic Coast Conference of the NCAA Division I.

But over the past two weeks, the 21-year old SIGMA FC player has filled an altogether different role with the Canadian Under-23 Olympic team, and it just might help the squad get to London.

Bekker has starred for the young Canadian side, playing a holding defensive role that has forced him to adjust his game. His contribution is one of the reasons Canada staged the upset of the tournament, defeating the United States 2-0, setting up a semi-final showdown with Mexico with a spot in the Olympics on the line.

"It's definitely different, no free-roaming," laughed Bekker, during a phone interview from Kansas City ahead of Saturday's semi-final game against Mexico. "But this is the role the coach has ask me to do, and I will do it to the best of my ability."

Compared to his usual attacking, probing style, Bekker has often been given tough defensive assignments for Team Canada. In the dying minutes of the team's opening draw against El Salvador, he lunged at an El Salvadorian attacker who was poised to shoot at the open Canadian goal. His move may well have saved a goal as the ensuing shot sailed over the bar. It was a moment that stood out, not because he was in such a deep defensive position, but because he never hesitated to do what he had to, to save the goal.

"Yeah, that play probably made up for the goal I almost gave up earlier," he laughed. Even though Bekker jokes about it, there is a clear sense of pride in the Oakville native, that he has found his defensive legs on such a big stage.

"I've always known I can play this way if I've had to," he said.


(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
The Olympic qualifying tournament marks a return to the national program for Bekker. He was a stalwart on youth teams in his teens, but was dropped from the program as a 16-year old. It caused the young player to question his abilities, and he has remarked in the past that he considered quitting the game at his worst moments. It wasn't until he joined SIGMA FC in 2007 that he began to resurrect his love of the game.

Now, Bekker is demonstrating he is ready to perform at the next level. He says the U23 tournament is the most intense soccer he has played in his career. "It's not necessarily more physical than [NCAA], but it is a bit faster, more intense."

Bekker is happy with his performance so far.

"I've always felt that I could play at this level, and I see this as another stepping stone," he said. "It's where I want to be."

Sigma FC's Managing Director Costa Smyrniotis has been watching with interest and is proud of Bekker's performance.

"Kyle is a big game player, one who can put the team on his shoulders and lead them to victory," said Smyrniotis. "He's listening to his coaches and showing a lot of maturity and professionalism. We have high expectations for Kyle and he continues to raise the bar with his play."

Following the dramatic win against the U.S., Bekker and Team Canada helped raise the awareness of the program across the country. Heavy underdogs, Canada defeated a U.S. team loaded with MLS players. He credits the team's success to the fact that everyone followed the coaches' directions and pulled together as a group.

"The U.S. game, that is the kind of game you hope you get to play in your life," said Bekker. "It was the greatest win, the biggest game, I have ever been a part of. We all did exactly what the coaches asked of us. We gave it everything we had."

Bekker said that before the game he heard a lot of gentle teasing from his friends on the Boston College campus, even getting messages with chants of 'USA, USA' over his voicemail. But following the win, he got nothing but support from his friends and teammates.

"They told me for one night, they were all Canadians. And that was really nice to hear."

Heading into Saturday's semi-final showdown with Mexico, Bekker knows the task is daunting, But just as they did before the U.S. match, the Canadians will prepare and give it their all. Mexico has rolled through their group stage posting three wins and scoring 11 goals and conceding one. But if the Olympic qualifying tournament has shown anything, it is proved to be a tough tournament to handicap. Bekker says that the team is prepared to give it all their effort to make it London.

"To be this close to history, to making the Olympics, is amazing," said Bekker. "We are playing one game with the chance to go to the Olympics waiting, so for me this is another opporunity."