June 13th, 2024

Canada coach says Sinclair’s influence, example will be felt long after she retires

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on October 27, 2023.

Canada’s national women’s soccer team captain Christine Sinclair takes part in the team’s practice Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023 in Montreal. Olympic champion Canada prepares for Saturday’s friendly against No. 9 Brazil with a spotlight on Sinclair in the first of four games on home soil before calling time on her international career in December. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL – While the countdown has started on Christine Sinclair’s international career, coach Bev Priestman says the longtime Canada captain’s impact will be felt long after she’s gone.

“I’ve heard her say the team is in safe hands. I think she’s very much done that,” Priestman said after Canada’s final training session before Saturday’s friendly against Brazil. “In everything that she does.

“She comes into a meeting with a notepad every time. Makes so many notes. There’s high-performance habits that the captain has led by example and it’s never changed “¦ Everyone follows her lead.”

Priestman noted Sinclair’s work at a recent practice.

“We’ve got two new players in (goalkeeper Melissa Dagenais and midfielder Emma Regan) and the other day, the greatest player of all-time is doing extra fitness at the end of the session. Little things like that set the tone.”

The 10th-ranked Canadian women take on No. 9 Brazil on Saturday at Montreal’s 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.

The 40-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., plans to play one more season with her club team, the NWSL’s Portland Thorns.

The Canadians trained Friday morning in light drizzle at Saputo Stadium, warming up to the sound of Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Shawn Mendes and T.I.

Defender Gabby Carle worked out on her own, her left leg taped, apart from the main team as it warmed up in the portion of training open to the media. Priestman said Carle would be available, saying she was dealing with a “niggle.”

No fan of the spotlight, Sinclair did not speak to the media after a pithy 13-minute news conference Thursday, her first public session since announcing her retirement plans last week. But she dominated the conversation.

The first question Priestman faced was how she would use Sinclair in the four remaining games. The coach said Sinclair had made her feelings clear

“Sinc being Sinc, was ‘I don’t want to take away from the preparation of this team and its Olympic preparation,”’ Priestman recalled.

Priestman called it a “balancing act of (paying attention to) the future but also absolutely paying tribute to the greatest player that this country’s ever seen.”

“Across these four games, fans that come to see Sinc will get to see Sinc in the game,” she added,

Sinclair leads all men and women with 190 international goals. And her 327 caps are second only to retired American Kristin Lilly’s 354.

Canada defeated Brazil 2-0 the last time they met, in February in Nashville at the SheBelieves Cup.

Canada has a 12-10-7 career record against the South Americans. Two of those wins came via penalty shootout including a quarterfinal matchup en route to gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

Like Canada, Brazil came home early from the FIFA World Cup this summer. The Brazilians failed to reach the knockout round, finishing third in Group F with a 1-1-1 record after beating Panama 3-0, losing 2-1 to France and drawing Jamaica 0-0.

Veteran coach Pia Sundhage stepped down after the World Cup with Arthur Elias taking over Brazilian women. Elias led Corinthians to four Brazilian championships and two Copa Libertadores titles.

Priestman said she had had a conversation with Sinclair after the World Cup “about Christine’s role.”

“But she absolutely was hell-bent on getting this team to the Olympics and that’s where she left it.”

The Olympic champion Canadians are coming off a 4-1 aggregate victory over Jamaica in a September Olympic qualifying playoff series. Priestman said Sinclair told her after the second leg in Toronto: “I’m done but I want a game at B.C. Place.”

“And it started from there,” she said.

Sinclair has said she had no interest in going to the Paris Olympics, having won gold in Tokyo.

Veteran midfielder Quinn, who goes by one name, said Sinclair’s pending exit has triggered emotions in the entire team.

“She’s changed the game for me so much and she’s been a leader on this team,” said Quinn, who has won 93 caps for Canada. “It’s definitely emotional. It’s emotional when any of our players leave but someone of her calibre and what she’s done for the team, it definitely is.”

Priestman has not singled out a possible successor as captain, although midfielder Jessie Fleming has worn the captain’s armband when Sinclair has not started.

“I see similarities between the two players in terms of humility, let their work on the pitch do the talking,” Priestman said. “And Jessie’s flourished in that role too “¦ Whoever has those big shoes to fill, they’ll help that team move forward.”

Brazil, which like Canada has qualified for Paris, has not played since the Aug. 2 World Cup draw with Jamaica but came together for a camp under Elias in September.

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 Halifax game is already a sellout at the 6,400-capacity Wanderers Ground. The last women’s national team game in the Maritimes was in May 2012 when Canada defeated China 1-0 in Moncton, N.B.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2023

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