‘The perfect night’: Sinclair bids farewell to Canadian career with a win

Sportsnet's Arash Madani joins Tim Micallef to talk about Christine Sinclair's final game in red and white, providing inside info on how the team celebrated her and also touching on just how much the tour itself impacted Sinclair.

VANCOUVER — Christine Sinclair’s bottom lip quivered, her voice shook and she held back tears as she sang ‘O Canada’ at the top of her lungs for the very last time as a member of Team Canada, for the very last time wearing that iconic No. 12 jersey on her back.  

The captain’s arms were draped around a couple of her long-time teammates, and she looked around at the 48,112 people in the stands as she sang, sometimes with her eyes closed, other times glancing down at the field to try to keep the tears from falling. 

Sinclair broke into a smile near the end of the anthem, and then it was time for the greatest goal-scorer soccer has ever seen to play her very last game for Canada. It was time for Sinclair to play her 331st international game, 23 years after her very first for this senior national team, in a stadium that had been renamed Christine Sinclair Place, for one night only.

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And the night was “perfect,” as a grinning Sinclair told TSN’s Claire Hanna on the field when it was all over. 

On Tuesday night, the face of Canadian soccer for over 20 years made her emotional and official exit from the international stage, shedding more than a few tears, pounding her hand over her heart as a way of thank you to her fans, and she went out winning, with a 1-0 victory over Australia. 

The goal came in the 40th minute, off a corner kick, and it was designed to go in off Sinclair’s head, which would’ve been the sweetest finish, to give her goal No. 191. Instead, the captain’s header was redirected to her teammate, Kadeisha Buchanan, who drilled it at the crossbar, and the ball deflected right to Quinn, who headed it into the net to make it 1-0 Canada, sending the crowd into an absolute tizzy. 

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That’s how both Sinclair and fellow long-time teammate Sophie Schmidt put an end to their international careers: With a win, at home. 

“I think tonight was incredible,” said Team Canada forward, Cloe Lacasse. “Of course it was so emotional going out there as the starting 11, having Sinclair lead us out. I think everyone had tears in their eyes, but being able to end their careers in this incredible place, Christine Sinclair place, with a victory — I mean, I think it’s a dream for those two and they honestly deserve it more than anyone else.” 

When Team Canada ran onto the field for warmups, they were all wearing red Sinclair t-shirt jerseys, with her name and No. 12 on the back — except Sinclair herself. She ran out for warmups sporting a red and black Schmidt jersey, No. 13, to honour her long-time teammate. Sinclair was tugging on the bottom of the jersey — it didn’t exactly fit, but she wore it anyway.

Schmidt noticed her pal’s gesture after they’d been out there for a minute or so, and she laughed and then put her hands over her heart and scrunched up her face as Sinclair ran by smiling. 

“Nobody knew she was going to put Sophie’s shirt on, and to me, in that moment that absolutely epitomizes her,” coach Bev Priestman said, of Sinclair. “She knows the world’s watching and she doesn’t want her teammate to get forgotten. And she put Sophie’s shirt on, albeit her shoulders are a bit broader than Sophie’s, so it didn’t fit so well. But I thought that was absolute class, and that would’ve made Sophie’s night.” 

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It was classic and classy from Sinclair. Anything to try to share that spotlight. To deflect it. And anything to give credit to a deserving teammate, as has always been No. 12’s way. At the end of warmups, Sinclair and Schmidt walked off the field together, each wearing the other’s jersey. 

Sinclair later ran onto the field wearing her own jersey for a pre-game tribute along, with her nieces, Kaitlyn and Kenzie — both were sporting heart-shaped Canada earrings and their aunt’s jersey. They watched a video featuring Sinclair’s friends and teammates, and all three were in tears on the field. Sinclair wiped them away and then patted her chest over her heart and looked up at the crowd.

The 40-year-old has been famously private throughout her career — an incredible achievement given the social media, share-it-all times we’re in.

“I think she’s shared exactly what she wants to share, and that’s what she’s been comfortable with,” said her teammate of 17 years, Diana Matheson. “She’s grown more comfortable with the spotlight and sharing parts of her personality over the years. She’s gotten older. You can see more stuff recently over the years with media where you actually see Sinc.”

Tuesday, fans got to see “Sinc.” She laughed. She cried. She endured pre-game ceremonies that included far more fanfare than she’d wanted. 

No. 12 started the game, and anytime she touched the ball or came near it, the crowd responded. They gave her a standing ovation in the 12th minute. And though she didn’t score, “she didn’t do bad,” as Priestman put it, smiling. 

“I’ve told her she’s absolutely irreplaceable, and forever this program will be better for her.” 

The main message on Tuesday to Sinclair was Thank You. Thank you to the woman who’s been the face of this program for more than two decades, its captain for 18 years and the player whose 190 goals have inspired countless soccer players around the world. The forward who played this game with such ferocity, who won three Olympic medals, including gold in 2021, and who put this team on her shoulders in the biggest moments. 

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A light-up #THANKYOUSINC sign greeted fans in front of Christine Sinclair Place, which was lit up red and white for the game. Sinclair, who was born and raised in nearby Burnaby, turned up with her team about an hour and a half before the game. They were greeted by more than 300 fans, many in Sinclair jerseys, who’d been waiting to catch a glimpse of the captain, or maybe to get a high-five as she walked into the stadium. 

Sinclair’s pre-game routine has long been to wander onto the field, just after her team arrives. She’ll crouch near the middle of the field and take in both goals while she visualizes what she’ll do in the game. 

But Tuesday was different. She walked onto the field with a handful of teammates. She got a full-body hug from teammate Vanessa Gilles, who then put her hands up to her head like she had horns, and Sinclair responded with her own horns. “That’s a ‘lil goat,” Gilles explained after the game. “It’s a ‘lil baby Sinc goat.” 

There wasn’t the usual visualizing for the captain on Tuesday. No, Tuesday was a celebration. And the captain was taking it all in, but in a different way. 

After Canada won gold at the 2021 Olympics, Sinclair said she knew she wasn’t going to be back for another Olympic cycle. She wanted to go out on top. She’ll play one more professional season with the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s soccer league, where she’s a three-time champion, last in 2022. 

Sinclair came out of her finale for Canada in the 58th minute — the plan was for her to come out after 12 minutes of the second half, but getting out of the game took time. She hugged teammates as she left the field, and looked up at the crowd, again patting her chest over her heart. 

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When she hugged Quinn, Sinclair said: “Thank you for scoring.” 

After the match, Quinn said of that final on-field moment with Sinclair: “I think I’ll remember that one for a long time.” They said it hadn’t sunk in yet that this was Sinclair and Schmidt’s last game with Canada. “I’m so appreciative that they got that moment for themselves and for everyone else out there,” they said.

Sinclair then peeled off that captain’s armband for the last time, and slapped it on Schmidt’s arm, as Schmidt took the field for her last appearance with Canada, and Sinclair left the field for the last time for Canada. 

The captain’s farewell tour is over now. And she’s no doubt feeling relieved that she’s out of the spotlight.

Sinclair’s teammates gave her a gift after the game Tuesday: A plaid jacket with a small goat emblem on one shoulder, and they got together in a circle and sang Sinclair’s favourite Celine Dion track, The Power of Love, all of them — except Sinclair — wearing “Sinclair 190 goal world tour” t-shirts. 

On the field, after it was over, Sinclair gave her lone interview post-game. The crowd was so loud that she told TSN’s Claire Hanna, “I cannot hear you.” 

And Sinclair summed up the evening. “I mean honestly, just joy,” she said. “I’ve done everything I can on this national team. I’m 100 per cent satisfied and content. And to go out with a win in front of my friends, in front of my family. Honestly, it’s been the perfect night.”

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