Christine Sinclair says Rio Olympics won’t be her last tournament

One of the greatest players in the history of the women's game, Christine Sinclair is Canada's all-time top scorer and appearance leader. (Petros Karadjias/AP)

TORONTO—The reporter couldn’t even finish the question he was posing to Christine Sinclair—will this summer’s Rio Olympics be your last major tournament?—before he was quickly cut off by the Canadian women’s team captain.

“No,” was the direct, one-word answer from Canada’s star forward. When pressed by the same reporter in a follow-up question, she simply said, “I think I have a lot more to give, so no.”

Sinclair was speaking during a Friday afternoon press conference at BMO Field, site of Saturday’s international friendly between Canada and Brazil—a game that Canadian coach John Herdman is using to prepare his side for the Games in Rio.

And while the 32-year-old Sinclair didn’t come out and specifically say she’ll be in France for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, or even the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, she made it pretty clear that this summer’s spectacular in Brazil won’t be her last appearance on the big stage.

That’s music to Herdman’s ears.

“As long as I’m the coach I’ll keep picking her. Her [soccer] IQ is through the roof; her technique is through the roof,” Herdman said.

“I’ve been winding her up, saying I’ll just keep moving her back [into defence]. I can see her for this next Olympics in a free role in the midfield, in a defensive midfield role; [Andrea] Pirlo-like, picking [the ball] up and spraying it around.”

For her part, Brazilian forward Marta, a former teammate of Sinclair’s at club level, hopes the Canadian captain will keep representing her country beyond the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

“She’s one of the greatest players who I have had the opportunity to play with and against,” Marta, a five-time FIFA world player of the year, said through a translator.

“I hope she can keep playing for a long time because she’s example both on and off the pitch.”

Sinclair has been the backbone of the Canadian team since making her debut as a 16-year-old in 2000. Since then, she’s established herself as one of the best players in the women’s game, and she’s become Canada’s all-time leader in goals (162) and caps (241). Sinclair has also played in two Olympics, helping the Reds win bronze in 2012 in London, and four World Cups, including last year’s competition staged in Canada.

If Sinclair has any hope of playing in another World Cup or Olympics, she will have to be in top physical form. She’s been hit by injures in recent years, and is currently dealing with a calf issue. Herdman admitted he plans to limit his captain’s minutes on Saturday, so fans shouldn’t expect her to play the full 90 minutes.

“She’s a phenom. Only in the last two years has she picked up injuries, but nothing catastrophic. As long as we mange [her playing time] well, I think she’ll keep going until 2020,” Herdman offered

Now in her early 30s, Sinclair is still an important player for Canada, but her influence has diminished over time, so Herdman is thinking long-term. To that end, he’s already started to infuse the Canadian program with a number of youngsters. Sinclair is one of five players over the age of 30 on this current Canadian roster, but there are also a number of young prospects on this side, including Jessie Fleming (18), Deanne Rose (17), and Gabrielle Carle (17).

In total, there are 11 players on this team who are 23 years old or younger, and the average age of the team is 25.2 years.

“These young kids have brought a new energy and passion to our tem. They have [raised] the bar. Us veteran players have had to step up,” Sinclair said.

Canada Soccer officials said Saturday’s game in Toronto is 90 percent sold out. Canada will face Brazil again next Tuesday at Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium.

Canada sports a 5-6-5 record vs. Brazil since 1996. The Reds won the last meeting, 2-1 in the Algarve Cup final in Portugal in March.

NOTES: Canada has the exact same roster for these next two matches that Herdman used for a friendly against the Netherlands in April, a 2-1 win for the Reds in Eindhoven, with one addition: third-string goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan… Herdman told reporters last week that players who were at last year’s World Cup and who did not make the squad for the Brazil friendlies—most notably Kaylyn Kyle, Lauren Sesselmann, Carmelina Moscato, Jonelle Filigno and Adriana Leon—have a slim chance of being named to the Olympic team at this point… Herdman will have to trim his roster from 20 to 18 players for the Olympic tournament… Canada will play its final pre-Olympic friendly against France in Auxerre on July 23. Herdman told reporters Friday that it isn’t yet announced but Canada will also play China in a closed-door game in France on July 20…