'You can't play forever,' all-time scoring leader says
After leading Canada to gold at the Tokyo Olympics in August 2021, captain Christine Sinclair came to a realization.
"After Tokyo, deep down inside, I knew I didn't want to play in Paris," she said, referencing the 2024 Olympics. "The way the Tokyo Olympics ended, you can't beat it.
"I wanted to give it one more shot for the World Cup, just because I really thought we could be successful there and we hadn't been successful in a long time at World Cups."
It wasn't to be. Canada came home early from Australia this summer, failing to make the knockout round in Sinclair's sixth trip to the soccer showcase.
It was not the ending she wanted.
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So Sinclair kept going, helping Canada qualify for the Paris Olympics last month in a 35-minute cameo off the bench in the second leg of the 4-1 aggregate win over Jamaica. But the 40-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., is now calling time on her Canada career, saying she will retire from international football at the end of the year.
"I can sit here and know that I've literally done everything I can and given all of me to this national team since I was 16 years old," she told The Canadian Press. "In terms of what I've done and knowing the work I've put into it, I have zero regrets. I know I've done everything I can for as long as I can. And the team's in good hands moving forward."
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While calling an end to her Canada career, Sinclair plans to play one more season for the NWSL Portland Thorns next year.
Sinclair, the world's all-time leading scorer with 190 goals from 327 senior appearances, is expected to play four more games for 10th-ranked Canada, starting with two friendlies later this month against No. 9 Brazil — in Montreal on Oct. 28 and Halifax on Oct. 31.
Four home games will allow Sinclair to say goodbye on home soil.
"That just made my decision very easy,." she said. "Playing for the national team as long as I have, we have not been able to play at home a lot. It will be special for me."
'It's just time'
Sinclair is clearly at peace with the decision.
"For me it's just time," she said. "I've started to catch myself thinking about going on vacation, spending time with my family, going to my cabin — that five years ago would never have crossed my mind. But at the same time, it excites me to play professionally [for Portland] but where you have one thing to focus on. It just seemed like time."
Sinclair has been the face of Canadian soccer for a long time, a world-class talent with down-home values. Not one to seek the spotlight, she did most of her talking on the pitch.
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She made scoring goals look easy, by simply putting the ball where the goalkeeper isn't.
"She doesn't do anything outrageous," Canadian forward Janine Beckie said in 2020. "Like she's not the kind of player that flicks the ball over her head, juggles it five times and hits it upper 90 [top left or right of the goal]. There are those kind of players but they are up-and-down players.
"She's the most consistent strikers I've ever played with because she's one of the most simple that I've ever seen. She does all the fundamental things to the best of her ability.
"You don't really notice her too much until she puts it in the back of the net," added then-Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller. "But if you go to some of our sessions, you can see how hard she is working to be that unnoticeable player that puts a shift in, then all of a sudden turns up in the penalty area."
Sinclair also helped the Canadian team craft an environment that welcomes young and old — and everything and everyone in-between.
Sinclair says she would like to get into coaching after she retires for good, although not as a head coach.
"That's seem awful and stressful and something that doesn't interest me at this point," Sinclair said with a laugh. "But the thought of being a unit-specific coach, like for the strikers for instance, is something that excites me.
"But then at the same time when I do stop playing for good, I know I'm going to have a lot of opportunities and options."
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Difficult lead-up to World Cup
Sinclair endured a difficult lead-up to the World Cup, as captain of a team battling its governing body in a lengthy labour dispute that has yet to be resolved.
"Obviously there's still a lot of work to be done, in terms of the pipeline for youth players and youth national teams and a professional league," she said. "I still have that fear that if we don't change some things, we'll get left behind as a program. But in terms of the players that are there, they're fine. They're going to be great,"
Having said that, Sinclair says the competition is getting tougher. The recent World Cup showed that are more top contenders than ever before.
It has been a long haul in Canadian colours.
Sinclair had already impressed at youth level, scoring 27 goals in 19 international matches. Ten of those goals came during Canada's run to the final of the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship in Edmonton in 2002.
Sinclair broke Abby Wambach's world-record total of 184 goals on Jan. 29, 2020, with her second goal in a 12-0 romp over St. Kitts and Nevis at the CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship at H-E-B Park in Edinburg, Tex.
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The record-tying goal came on a penalty kick in the seventh minute. The milestone 185th goal came in the 23rd minute as Sinclair, left alone, converted an Adriana Leon feed.
Never one to blow her own horn, Sinclair had been more worried that her record chase would serve as a distraction to the team.
Sinclair was playing in her 290th career game for Canada. Wambach, who retired in 2015, compiled her total in 255 games.
St. Kitts, then ranked No. 127 in the world, became the 41st country Sinclair had scored on.
Sinclair played in four Olympics, also leading the team to bronze in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Her hat trick in a 4-3 loss after extra time in the U.S. in the 2012 London semifinal remains an indelible memory for many. And after the loss, she rallied her downcast teammates in the locker-room.
It was a rare speech from the skipper.
"I think often the best leaders, they don't say much but when they speak, people listen. Because they don't say much," said John Herdman, then coach of the women's team.
"I get emotional every time I think about the speech," said goalkeeper Erin McLeod.
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The Canadian women defeated France 1-0 in the bronze-medal game thanks to a Diana Matheson goal in stoppage time. The medal came 13 months after Canada finished dead last at the 2011 World Cup.
Sinclair's role has changed in recent times.
She started games against Nigeria and Australia at the World Cup and came off the bench to start the second half against Ireland, helping turn the tide with fellow veteran Sophie Schmidt in a 2-1 comeback win.
Canada coach Bev Priestman praised her captain for her attitude and work ethic ahead of the World Cup, saying she did "brilliantly" in pre-tournament fitness testing.
She also credited Sinclair for continuing to evolve.
"She makes critical passes, is critical to this team," Priestman said in July. "But what I do know is this team is no longer just about Christine Sinclair. I think we've got the depth across the forward line, the midfield line, to not rely on anyone for every single minute across the tournament and I think that's what you'll see [at the tournament].
"But I think she's critical to this team's success."
Goal No. 190 came July 5, 2022, in a 6-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago at the CONCACAF W Championship in Guadalupe, Mexico.
Sinclair has been held off the scoresheet in the 16 games since, some of which saw her play in a more withdrawn midfield role. Of her 327 appearances for Canada, 312 were starts.
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).
Sinclair had a penalty kick saved in the Nigeria game, which prevented her from becoming the first player — male or female — to score in six World Cups.
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