TORONTO – Seventeen goals.
That’s all the separates Canadian captain Christine Sinclair from beating U.S. legend Abby Wambach’s all-time record as the top scorer in the history of women’s international soccer.
Sinclair’s 168th goal came in Canada’s 3-1 win over Costa Rica on Thursday night in Winnipeg, the opener of a two-game exhibition series between the sides that concludes Sunday afternoon at BMO Field.
With each goal, Sinclair, who turns 34 on Monday, inches closer to Wambach’s mark of 184. But the Burnaby, B.C., native insists that becoming the all-time scorer in the women’s game isn’t foremost on her mind. Instead, she has far loftier aims.
“I got asked [about the record] in the press conference before the Winnipeg game, and they asked me what my goal total was, and I honestly had no idea. I’ve since been told it was 168. I don’t even know what Abby is at. It’s just not something I pay attention to. I want this team to succeed and there are more important goals than beating Abby Wambach,” Sinclair told Sportsnet ahead of Sunday’s rematch versus Costa Rica.
“I want this team to be number one [in the world], that’s the focus. … I think about the bigger picture. I want this team and this country to succeed on the women’s stage and win a major tournament.”
Age has not slowed down Sinclair. The iconic forward is not as prolific as she was earlier in her career, but she remains a critical player and a valued leader for a Canadian team that is trying to build for the future around a crop of talented young prospects, including midfielder Jessie Fleming and forward Janine Beckie.
A year ago when the Canadian team was in town for a friendly against Brazil, coach John Herdman talked about the evolution of his captain, and the possibility of playing her as a midfielder at that summer’s Olympics in Rio.
“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,” Herdman said at the time.
It didn’t happen, and Herdman walked back that statement somewhat when asked about it by Sportsnet following the team’s Saturday afternoon training session.
That said, Herdman has deployed Sinclair in different roles since the Olympics, including as a “false nine,” or a lone striker who drops deep into midfield instead of playing up top.
“We’ve started to see a bit of a shift there; me moving her into a ‘false nine’ quite a lot now. What I’ve learned from Christine is that she’s so good in the penalty area. In that 12-yard to the goal-line area, I don’t think there’s anybody better. I just keep thinking to myself she always comes through in big moments for this team. Who else would you want in that [12-yard area] in a big game other than Christine Sinclair?” Herdman said.
“It has been in the back of our minds, but she’s a predator. I think [playing as a forward] is where she’ll want to finish her career.”
He later quipped: “I don’t think she’d let us [play her in midfield], eh?”
No, she probably wouldn’t.
“I’m a forward at the core of me. I like to think I’m pretty dangerous in front of goal and inside the box,” Sinclair stated.
“The one thing I’d say that John has added to my game is the ability to get the ball deeper, and sometimes provide for others and be the playmaker. … He’s trying to introduce the idea of hybrid players; players who can play multiple positions. I think I’m one of those. You can play me up top, I can drop into midfield, I can play out wide.”
Sinclair admitted she particularly enjoys playing as a ‘false nine’ for Canada as it allows her to better connect on the pitch with teammates.
“I love it. Sometimes playing as a forward you get isolated and you’re relying so much on others to get you the ball. When you’re a ‘false 9,’ I find I can have a little bit more impact on the game,” Sinclair admitted.
“You’re still in dangerous areas, but you can make plays a little bit more. With players like Jessie [Fleming], Sophie [Schmidt], Desiree [Scott] in the midfield, it’s so fun to combine with them and it’s nice to be part of it every once in a while.”
NOTES: Canada Soccer will honour five former Canadian players who’ve recently retired during Sunday’s match: Lauren Sesselmann, Jonelle Filingo, Kaylyn Kyle, Josee Belanger and Robyn Gayle… Canada is fifth in the current FIFA world rankings, 25 spots ahead of Costa Rica… Canada has won all 11 games against Costa Rica, outscoring the Central Americans 36-5…