Ahead of last dance with CanWNT, Christine Sinclair is embracing "great opportunity" of farewell tour
Many knew that this moment would one day come. That still doesn’t mean that it’ll be any easier to accept the news.
Over the next week, Christine Sinclair will take the field while wearing a Canadian kit for the final two times in her long and illustrious career, as she and her Canadian teammates take on Australia in a pair of friendlies on December 1st and 5th, respectively.
Having announced her retirement from the CanWNT just over a month ago, when she revealed that she’d finish her international football career at the end of this calendar year, this marks the end of a special journey for Sinclair.
A journey that started 23 years ago, when she first made her Canadian debut as a 16-year-old against 1999 World Cup runner-ups China at the 2000 Algarve Cup, it’s also fitting that her journey will end with a pair of games against a top team, as Australia finished fourth at this past summer’s 2023 World Cup.
And even more fittingly, both games will be in Sinclair’s home province of British Columbia, too, as the December 1st game will be at a sold-out Starlight Stadium in Langford, while the December 5th game will be at a packed BC Place (which has temporarily been renamed to Christine Sinclair Place for this game) a few days later.
For one special evening on December 5th, BC Place will be called 𝘾𝒉𝙧𝒊𝙨𝒕𝙞𝒏𝙚 𝙎𝒊𝙣𝒄𝙡𝒂𝙞𝒓 𝑷𝙡𝒂𝙘𝒆— BC Place (@bcplace) November 27, 2023
Join us in paying tribute to the profound impact @sincy12 has had on her hometown and its aspiring athletes.
📰: https://t.co/G9wUWJCNQr pic.twitter.com/LbLMas2PKH
Given her status as a true Canadian sporting icon, it’ll be a huge celebration, as in the 329 appearances she was able to make while wearing the Maple Leaf, she was able to make some pretty cool memories along the way.
From becoming the all-time top international goalscorer, to winning an Olympic gold medal with Canada in 2021, and much more, she was able to become not just a key figure for the growth of soccer in this country, but a global symbol for the women’s game, too.
Yet, while this will be a celebration that everyone involved will make sure to cherish, Sinclair is feeling a bit mixed about it, ironically.
It’s not that she doesn’t want this to happen - she enjoys a special relationship with the fans and is excited to play in front of them for one last time - but she’s never been one for the limelight despite her success.
Because of that, she’s joked that this is a “nightmare” scenario of sorts for her, as in her dream scenario, her retirement would go unnoticed, something that was never going to happen given her status.
“It’s mixed emotions for me,” Sinclair joked in October. “Because yeah, I saw what Stephanie Labbé went through, I’ve seen what Megan Rapinoe went through, and yes, that is my worst nightmare. However, I do realize it's going to be a special night, and this is a great opportunity to play across Canada (for the last time), and for me to be able to say thank you to the fans that have supported me throughout my entire career.”
And to be fair, Sinclair’s been preparing for this moment for a while now. At 40 years of age, she may still be an effective player, which is why she’ll still play professionally into next season with the Portland Thorns, but she felt that she’s gone as far as she could with Canada.
Especially after winning the Olympic gold medal back in 2021, the CanWNT’s first major tournament win, she knew that she wasn’t going to be donning the shirt for much longer after that.
In fact, she set a clear line in the sand at that point - give the World Cup a sixth and final go, and then call it quits soon after.
So even though that final World Cup didn’t go as planned, as Canada failed to exit their group this summer for the first time since 2011, Sinclair remained steadfast in her decision to hang up the boots.
Because of that, while it didn’t happen immediately after the World Cup, as Sinclair wanted to help her team qualify for the 2024 Olympics in the September window first, she knew that she’d be done by the end of the year.
“I think the biggest thing was after Tokyo, just the way we went out and won the whole thing, I already knew I didn't want to play in Paris, as there’s no better way to go out of the Olympics, but I did want her to give the World Cup one more shot,” Sinclair explained. “I thought this team had a unique opportunity to prove to the world this summer that Tokyo wasn't a fluke, and we haven't had the most success at the World Cup, so I knew I would play there, I was ready to go, and wanted to give it one more shot.”
“But then with the way that the World Cup then went, I didn't want that to be it, so I talked to Bev, and I wanted to be a part of the group to help the team qualify for Paris, as for me personally it was important.”
“And then I thought that was going to be it!” she joked with a smile. “I was going to walk off and not say a word and just be done, but then there were rumours of four games being played in Canada, and my friends and family convinced me that I just couldn’t leave yet, that I owed it to myself and owe it to Canada to come out and play these games.”
But while December 5th at BC Place will be the final time that Canada will see Sinclair in a Canadian shirt on the pitch, less than 40 minutes away from her hometown of Burnaby, might that be the last time that she remains involved in Canadian soccer?
It’s too early to say, as Sinclair still hasn’t hung up the boots yet, but the good news is that she plans to remain in the game in some capacity.
First, she’s got to finish her playing career, which will start with at least one more year in Portland, before what one has to imagine is either her retirement or a stint playing up in Canada in 2025 when Project 8 Sports launches their professional women’s soccer league.
Then, after that, it’ll remain to be seen where she ends up, as with her strong ties to Portland, where she’s spent 14 of the last 23 years, she could very well stay south of the border instead of returning home.
Either way, one thing’s for sure - Sinclair has no plans to give up this game anytime soon, as her intention is to become a coach or something of the sort once that club retirement does eventually happen.
“I’m going to stay involved in the game,” she admitted. “This game has been my life since I was four, so I plan to play another year in Portland hopefully, and then we'll go from there.”
“But whether it's coaching, whether it's behind the scenes, yeah, I’m not leaving (soccer).”
The Last Dance 🇨🇦❤️ pic.twitter.com/qlnyLYlGwA— CANWNT (@CANWNT) November 23, 2023
But one thing’s for sure - no matter if Sinclair ends up north of the border, she’ll be rooting for this Canadian team going forward.
Even if it’ll be weird not to be involved in 2024 at first, she’s created several special bonds that she’ll carry for life. From longtime teammates such as Sophie Schmidt (who will also represent Canada for the last time on December 5th) to newer ones like Olivia Smith, they all only ever have good things to say about what Sinclair’s presence meant to them as teammates, mentors, friends and more.
So while some may wonder who can step up to fill her shoes, Sinclair’s happy to watch them push onwards to what’s next, knowing that they’re more than capable of achieving greater and better things in the future, thanks to the work that she and many others did before them.
Because of that, while she didn’t want to put pressure on any names in particular who might succeed her as the face of this team, she knows that they’ll be prepared to handle what’s next and go from there.
“It's so hard to put that amount of pressure on people and young kids coming up, and you hope that they all aspire to be even better than those who came before them, so I'm not going to pick out a name,” Sinclair finished. “I just know that the future of this team is in great hands.”
“We’ve got a bunch of youngsters who are both eager and ready to go, but are also experienced, so I’m excited to see what this team can do, not only in Paris, but in the years to come, too.”