Canada’s Christine Sinclair: Portrait of a reluctant record setter

Christine-Sinclair

Christine Sinclair. (AP Photo/Andy Jacobsohn)

TORONTO – Christine Sinclair knows the numbers involved.

How could she not know? Even after every goal, when the numbers change, everybody is constantly reminding her.

Four to tie. Five to set a new mark.

Of course, deep down, Sinclair wants to break the record. Of course, Sinclair, who has scored 180 times in 280 appearances for Canada, wants to bag the five goals she needs to surpass retired U.S. star Abby Wambach as the all-time leading scorer in international women’s soccer.

Sinclair, a 35-year-old native of Burnaby, B.C., could draw closer to Wambach’s milestone on Saturday afternoon when Canada hosts Mexico in a friendly at BMO Field. If all goes well, she could become the record-setting scorer in the history of the women’s game during next month’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.

And yet, when you ask Sinclair about the impressive record that will eventually be hers, there’s an undeniable trace of reluctance in her voice, as if to say, “why is everyone making such a big deal about this?”

It would seem breaking Wambach’s longstanding mark is far more important to those in the media who cover women’s soccer than to Sinclair herself. For Canada’s captain, it’s always been about what takes place on the pitch and moving the national team forward.

Her singular focus is on the looming World Cup, which will be her fifth and, likely, her final appearance in the tournament. A last chance to win the one thing missing from her impressive resume.

Goal-scoring records? Nah. That’s for other people to worry about. Not her. She has a World Cup to try to win.

“I think it’s something I thought about more last year and earlier this year,” Sinclair said this week. “It’s not my focus now. It’s all about prepping for the World Cup and helping this team reach its goals. And if the record happens to break, it happens. If it doesn’t, we’ll do it later.”

You’ll notice her use of the term “we’ll do it later.” That wasn’t a slip of the tongue. It was a deliberate use of “we’ll” rather than “I’ll” on her part.

For Sinclair, it’s always been about the team and the collective – never about her. This record isn’t about her career and her achievements, but about the team, and those who have helped her get to this point. Without a supporting cast of Diana Matheson, Sophie Schmidt and countless others, she wouldn’t be where she is at this moment: On the brink of becoming the greatest goal scorer in the history of women’s soccer.

Maybe that’s why her teammates seem more emotionally invested in Sinclair breaking the record than Sinclair herself.

“We probably annoy her with how excited we are,” midfielder Desiree Scott admitted. “She’s quite humble and doesn’t really want to talk about it, but we are beyond excited for her. Every time she doesn’t take a shot or passes the ball, we’re like, ‘Why’d you do that?’ We’re excited for her. We’re not wanting to add any pressure, but we know she can do it, and any way we can help in assisting that, we’re going to do it.”

Looking ahead to when Wambach’s record does fall – and it will fall; the only question is when – Sinclair admitted she’ll be overcome by a sense of relief that it’s all over. But she’ll also remember all of those who helped her along the way. Again, for Sinclair, it’s all about the collective, not individual achievement.

“Just proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish, the longevity of my career, and being able to adapt with the game,” Sinclair said. “Of course, you think of all your teammates and friends and family and coaches that helped you every single step of the way. Without any of them, it wouldn’t be possible.”

The woman who holds the record that Sinclair is chasing was in many ways a different type of player. In stark contrast to the Canadian captain, Wambach had a big personality on and off the field during her playing days, and embraced the attention. Sinclair has always shunned the spotlight.

But there are similarities, too, beyond both having a nose for goal. Wambach was a battle-hardened warrior, someone who left it all out on the pitch each time she played, and whose will to win drove the U.S. national team forward. Sinclair, who played against Wambach countless times, is cut from the same cloth.

“I was lucky in that I never really had to defend her. [She was] just a – and I mean this in the nicest way – a beast. Obviously, I think of her, and I think of a clutch performer, scored some massive goals for the Americans in big tournaments. She was, at times, I felt like the player on their team that refused to let them lose,” Sinclair offered.

Asked to pick out a favourite of the 180 goals she has scored for Canada, Sinclair deflects, and again reaffirms her focus is solely on this summer’s World Cup, and not personal glory.

“Hopefully one that’s going to happen this summer,” she said.

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