June 16th, 2024

Christine Sinclair looks to avoid being ‘surprised’ on farewell tour with Canada

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on October 26, 2023.

Canada’s national women’s soccer team captain Christine Sinclair, right, does a drill during the team’s practice Thursday, October 26, 2023 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

While no fan of being in the spotlight, captain Christine Sinclair knows she will be centre stage in her final four games for Canada.

The 40-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., admitted to having “mixed emotions” Thursday as she started her farewell tour, having seen former Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé and U.S. stars like Megan Rapinoe honoured at their final games.

Sinclair, as humble as they come, has always been uncomfortable being the main attraction.

“Yes that is my worst nightmare,” she said with a smile in Montreal, where Canada faces Brazil on Saturday. “However, I do realize “¦ this is a great opportunity to play four games across Canada and, for me, to be able to say thank you to the fans that have supported me throughout my career.

“The (final) one in Vancouver, I don’t know what is going to be planned. I just have told people I don’t want to be surprised by anything.”

Sinclair seemed dead serious. But the chances of a surprise-free exit from the international stage seem slim.

When Sinclair scored her record-setting 185th goal in January 2020, passing retired American Abby Wambach, in an 11-0 romp over St. Kitts and Nevis at the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship at H-E-B Park in south Texas, her teammates were ready, complete with props.

A smiling Sinclair turned, her arms outstretched, and then pumped her fists before Adriana Leon, who assisted on the play, arrived to hug her. The goal celebration continued at the sideline with Sinclair rolling the ball into her teammates, who went down like bowling pins.

Behind her, the Canadian substitutes had donned goat masks to honour the Greatest Of All Time.

Sinclair’s news conference, her first since announcing her retirement plans last Friday, lasted less than 13 minutes.

Her 190 international goals lead both the men’s and women’s ranks. But with her role changing to a more withdrawn position in some outings, she has not scored in 16 matches.

Her last goal was July 5, 2022, in a 6-0 romp over Trinidad and Tobago at the CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico. Sinclair had a penalty saved in Canada’s 0-0 draw with Nigeria at this summer’s FIFA World Cup, preventing her from becoming the first player to score in six World Cups.

Sinclair, whose 327 caps are second only to the retired Kristine Lilly’s 354, will be feted across the country in games in Montreal, Halifax, Langford, B.C., and Vancouver.

The 10th-ranked Canadian women take on No. 9 Brazil on Saturday at Montreal’ Saputo Stadium and Tuesday at Halifax’s Wanderers Ground. Sinclair will then call time on her Canada career with a pair of games against No 11 Australia on home turf – Dec. 1 at Langford’s Starlight Stadium and Dec. 5 at Vancouver’s B.C. Place Stadium.

Sinclair plans to play one more season with her club team, the NWSL’s Portland Thorns. And she says her future after that will be in football.

“Whether it’s coaching, whether it’s behind the scenes, yeah, I’m not leaving,” she said.

Sinclair said she was proud of her longevity in the sport and pointed to the friends she had made over the years.

Other bonds she shares include a tattoo of a small V – for veterans – that she and fellow Canadian veterans like Sophie Schmidt, Allysha Chapman, Desiree Scott, Erin McLeod and Labbé all got the last time they were in Montreal.

The Olympic champion Canadians are coming off a 4-1 aggregate victory over Jamaica in a September Olympic qualifying playoff series.

Sinclair said after the disappointment of this summer’s World Cup she wanted to help the team qualify for the Paris Olympics. But she had no interest in joining her teammates there next year, saying leaving the Tokyo Games with the gold medal could not be beaten.

She had thought of just walking away from the international game after the Olympic qualifier with no fanfare, which would have been a very Sinclair-like way to exit.

“I thought that was going to be it and I was going to walk off and not say a word and just be done,” she said. “But then there were rumours of four games being played in Canada. My friends and family convinced me, (saying) ‘You can’t just leave. You owe it to yourself, you owe it to Canada to come out and play these games.'”

Sinclair, who has led the women’s ongoing fight against Canada Soccer in negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, acknowledged it has been “a harder battle” than she anticipated.

“But moving forward at the very least we’ll have the same as the men which is a huge step forward for this program,” she said. “Is it where we ideally want it? No. But obviously there’s some things going on behind the scenes that we can’t control.”

The Canadian women last played in Montreal in October 2021, defeating New Zealand 1-0 as part of their celebration tour following the Tokyo Olympics. The last women’s national team game in the Maritimes was in May 2012 when Canada defeated China 1-0 in Moncton, N.B.

The Halifax game is already a sellout at the 6,400-capacity Wanderers Ground.

Sinclair made her senior debut at 16 – then Canada’s youngest-ever player – in March 2000 in a 4-0 loss to China at the Algarve Cup. She scored her first goal two days in her second senior outing, beating star goalkeeper Bente Nordby in a 2-1 loss to Norway.

At 40 years 38 days at the start of this summer’s World Cup, Sinclair was the second-oldest player at the tournament (behind Nigeria’s Onome Ebi’s 40 years 73 days).

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2023.

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