Top 10 moments of Christine Sinclair's CanWNT career
Everyone knew that the day was coming. Despite that, it doesn’t make it any less painful for Canadian fans to swallow.
Of course, that’s about the big news that came out on Thursday that CanWNT legend, Christine Sinclair, would be retiring from international football at the end of 2023.
After wearing the Maple Leaf for 24 years, representing Canada at six different World Cups and four different Olympics, it’s a bittersweet piece of news for many reasons. Of course, given that she’d just turned 40, it was known that the time was soon coming for her to hang up the boots, but given her importance to this team and the sport across Canada, it’ll still be extremely weird to watch Canada games in the future without her running around with her iconic #12 on her back.
Given that she’d risen from a quiet teenager from Burnaby BC, to the all-time top international goalscorer (and Olympic gold medallist!), all while helping grow the profile of the sport in Canada and the women’s game at large with the work she put in on and off the pitch, that’s all made her synonymous with soccer in this country.
The good news, however? She isn’t done yet. With two international windows remaining this year, she’ll represent Canada four more times before the end of 2023, as Canada gets set to take on Brazil in Montréal on October 28th and in Halifax on October 31st, before reportedly playing Australia in Langford on December 1st and in Vancouver on December 5th.
In particular, the last part of that is key, as that Vancouver game promises to be special given that she grew up in the region, with a sell-out of BC Place a real possibility as fans get set to send off a true icon.
Plus, she’s indicated that she’ll also play one more year of club football with the NWSL’s Portland Thorns, where she remains a key contributor, so it’s not as if she’ll completely stop playing the sport completely, even if it’ll be quite strange to not see her play for Canada.
Before she gets the send-off for Canada that she deserves, however, here’s a look back on some of her top career moments, in chronological order, to help reflect on the legacy she’ll leave behind as she hangs up the boots.
Sinclair’s CanWNT debut and first goal:
As the saying goes, you always remember your first.
For Sinclair, that came in 2000, as she made her debut as a 16-year-old at the 2000 Algarve Cup, an invitational tournament between some of the top teams in the world.
There, she made the first of 327 appearances in a 4-0 loss to China in the opening game of the tournament, before she had her big moment against Norway in the second match.
Despite facing off against the 1995 World Cup champions (and soon-to-be 2000 Olympic gold medallists) Norway, Sinclair found the net for the first time in a CanWNT shirt, opening the scoring in a 2-1 loss.
The rest of the tournament went pretty quietly for Canada, who finished fifth, with Sinclair scoring two more goals, both coming against Denmark in the fifth-place game, showing that at 16, she could be someone to count on offensively for this team.
Seeing how many goals she’s scored since, it’s safe to say that she did well to build off that first experience with Canada going forward.
Sinclair’s breakout at the 2003 World Cup:
Given that she’d already gone out and scored 40 goals through her first three-and-a-half years of the program, the fall of 2003 promised to be a special one for the 20-year-old Sinclair, who got set to play in her first World Cup for Canada.
There, Canada had a lot to prove, as after missing out on the inaugural World Cup in 1991, they’d qualified in 1995 and 1999, but were yet to win a game at the tournament, drawing two and losing four of their six previous World Cup games.
Especially with Sinclair leading the way, it felt like Canada could change that in 2003.
And they certainly did that, as they ended up making it all the way to the semi-finals, finishing fourth as they fell to Sweden in the semi-finals, before falling to the US in the fourth-place game.
There, Sinclair shone, too, finishing as Canada’s co-leading scorer with three goals, which was tied for fifth in the tournament.
Unfortunately for Canada, they were never able to build off what they accomplished at Sinclair’s first World Cup - it remains their lone semi-final appearance at the World Cup in their history - but it was a special first act for Sinclair at that tournament, in which she’d go on to score 10 goals in her World Cup career, good for ninth all-time among women’s players.
Sinclair scores winning goal as Canada claims 2010 Concacaf Championships:
Everyone wants to be the leader of their region. Because of that, Canada will be frustrated that they’ve historically struggled at the Concacaf Championships, which has mostly served as World Cup qualifiers in the past, as well as the region’s marque tournament with a lack of Gold Cup (which is changing next summer).
Given that they’ve only won the Concacaf Championships twice in their history, compared to nine times for the US, with Canada finishing as runners-up on six occasions, it’s been a tournament that has provided a lot of heartbreaking moments.
Because of that, 2010 is special, as it was the lone time that Canada was able to win the tournament while Sinclair was on the team. There, she played a massive role, too, scoring six goals, tied for second in the tournament, including the winning goal in a 1-0 win over hosts Mexico in the final.
Sinclair’s first trophy with Canada’s senior team that wasn’t from a friendly or invitational tournament, it was a memorable moment for her, as she was finally able to taste that sweet feeling of victory with her teammates, after instead spending most of her first decade with the team watching others get to experience that joy.
Sinclair’s special free kick against Germany:
Despite her ability to score goals with finesse, part of Sinclair’s reputation as a player also comes from her toughness, and the ability to get to the dirty areas to score goals.
Because of that, it was fitting that she was able to combine both of those things on a goal at the 2011 World Cup, in which she scored Canada’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Germany in their opening game.
After breaking her nose earlier in the match off an elbow, she refused to come off, feeling that she could play through the pain.
And even though her team trailed 2-0 against a team that was coming off back-to-back World Cup wins, she made true on her promise, scoring a fantastic free kick in the 82nd minute to give Canada late hope.
Unfortunately, they didn’t find an equalizer, and didn’t end up winning a game (or scoring another goal) as they finished last in what was arguably their worst tournament performance ever, but Sinclair’s goal was a reminder of what she could do even when injured - perhaps a precursor for what would be to come at the 2012 Olympics from her.
Also, given that this tournament led to Canada hiring John Herdman afterwards, a move that ended up being pivotal for Canada’s turnaround to an Olympic medal-winning side, that was another bright light to take from this World Cup.
Sinclair wins the Northern Star Award:
There’s no doubting soccer’s importance to the Canadian sporting landscape - there’s a reason why so many people play when growing up.
Despite that, the sport constantly has to fight for the spotlight, although people have shown up to support and watch in the biggest moments, as seen in recent examples such as the CanWNT winning the gold medal in 2021, or the CanMNT qualifying for their first World Cup in 36 years in 2022.
All of that to say, it shows why 2012 was so special for Sinclair, as she had a fantastic year, winning the Olympic Golden Boot with six goals as the CanWNT won their first-ever medal, which was bronze, while also scoring a career-high 23 goals in 22 games for Canada.
Thanks to that, she became the first-ever soccer player to win the Northern Star Award, formerly known as the Lou Marsh, which has been given to Canada’s top athlete of the year since 1936.
In a country where interest in sports is dominated by the likes of hockey (the Northern Star Award has been won a record 14 times by hockey players), that was a big deal, just showing the importance of Sinclair’s success in getting the game noticed around the country.
Sinclair pops off at the 2012 Olympics:
Speaking of the 2012 Olympics, it’s worth noting that it may very well be Sinclair’s finest work in tournament football, as she was dominant for those few weeks in Great Britain.
It wasn’t just that she claimed the tournament Golden Boot, either, but how she did it, as after scoring two goals in the group stages as Canada scraped out of their group in third place, she then turned things on in the knockouts, scoring one goal in the quarter-finals as Canada defeated hosts Great Britain, before putting up a hat trick against the US.
In particular, that US game may very well be Sinclair’s finest performance ever in a Canadian shirt, as she had put the team up 3-2 with her hat trick, putting them minutes away from their first-ever major final, before an extremely controversial call against Erin McLeod for holding onto the ball too long (an infraction that is nearly never called, much less at that time in a game of that magnitude) led to a US penalty to tie things up in the 80th minute, before they won in the 123rd minute of extra time.
From there, however, Canada then did well to pick up a 1-0 win over France in the bronze medal game, in which Diana Matheson scored a late winner to earn Canada that famous medal.
Yet, while the bronze medal was special, that US game proved to be huge for Sinclair as her performance and afterwards criticism of the referee, which earned her a four-game suspension and fine, really put her and the CanWNT on the map long-term.
Sinclair scores late winner to kick off 2015 World Cup:
Off the back of her team’s success in the 2012 Olympics, it raised expectations ahead of their next major tournament, which just happened to be the 2015 World Cup, which was hosted in Canada.
Because of that, fan support ended up being immense for Canada, as their supporters got behind them to push them on, as they looked to build off the bronze medal, as well as the fact that they’d finished last at the 2011 edition of the tournament.
As a result, Canada’s first game, a clash with China in Edmonton, was played in front of over 50,000 fans, giving an idea of how strong that support was.
There, Sinclair stepped up with another signature moment, too, as after an even game through the 90, Canada won a penalty kick in the 92nd minute, which Sinclair stepped up to take it, slotting home what would stand as the 1-0 winner in that game.
A goal that sent the crowd into a giant rapture as Sinclair and her teammates ran to the bench to celebrate, it set the table for what ended up being a massive tournament for Canada, who made it out of their group for just the second time in history, only narrowly falling 2-1 to England in the quarter-finals.
Between that and the 2012 Olympics, it had felt like Canada had arrived on the world stage, with Sinclair playing a massive role in both tournaments.
Sinclair scores at fifth World Cup:
It’s hard to score at different World Cups. The feat of longevity, consistency and ability is one that has proven hard for many, as it’s hard to play in five tournaments, let alone score in them all.
Because of that, the 2019 World Cup was special for Sinclair, as when she found the net in a 2-1 loss against the Netherlands in the group stage, she marked a special achievement, becoming just the second player ever to score in five different World Cups (2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019), joining Brazil’s Marta on that list.
Given that since then, only Cristiano Ronaldo has joined their company, that puts in context how remarkable that achievement was, especially given that Canada’s struggled historically at World Cups, theoretically giving Sinclair fewer opportunities to score at each tournament.
Yet, it stands as one of the many records that just shows how lethal Sinclair has been across her career, showing her proficiency in front of goal.
Number 2️⃣ of our Top 5 Goals of 2019: Christine Sinclair!— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) January 1, 2020
With this goal v Netherlands, Christine Sinclair scored in her fifth FIFA Women's World Cup! pic.twitter.com/g8G3etfv0X
Scoring goal #185:
Arguably the hardest part about soccer remains scoring goals, which is why forwards can sometimes be the highest-paid players on teams. It’s even harder to score them consistently, especially as opponents figure out your tendencies and other things of the like, which is why those who can score on a regular basis tend to gain even more recognition.
Because of that, it’s a testament to Sinclair’s ruthlessness and efficiency as a forward that after 20 years of playing for Canada, she was able to pass Abby Wambach to become the all-time international goalscorer, scoring goals 184 and 185 against St.Kitts and Nevis in 2020.
Never one to celebrate the previous 183 goals much, beyond maybe a fistbump and a passionate yell, it was also pretty cool to see her enjoy the moment and share a planned celebration with the rest of the team, too.
She wouldn’t be done scoring there, either, extending her record to 190 as of writing, including this peach for 189 last year against Nigeria, adding to her legacy as one of the most lethal goalscorers to ever do it in this sport.
The long-awaited gold medal:
For all of the individual success that Sinclair had with Canada as 2021 rolled around, sitting with her 186 goals and countless other memorable performances, team success had eluded her and her teammates.
Of course, the back-to-back Olympic bronzes were nice, but heading into the 2021 Olympics, Canada had never won a major tournament, let alone reached a final.
Because of that, with Sinclair pushing deep into her 30s, it felt like the 2021 Olympics were a good chance to change that. With a talented squad, and a new head coach in Bev Priestman, who had been hired at the end of 2020, Canada entered that tournament eager to “change the colour of their medal”.
And to their credit, they’d do just that.
It started out slow, as despite Sinclair scoring her 187th goal just six minutes into their opening-day match against Japan, they drew 1-1 on a late equalizer. Thanks to a win over Chile in match #2 and a draw against Great Britain in match #3, however, they did enough to emerge as the second-place team, sending them to the quarter-finals.
There, they managed to capture some magic in a bottle the rest of the way. It took all sorts of stress, as they beat Brazil in the quarter-finals after a 0-0 draw, claimed a narrow 1-0 win over the US thanks to a Jessie Fleming penalty, before beating Sweden on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the final to earn the gold medal.
Sinclair didn’t end up playing the sort of role many are used to seeing from her across those games, as she only took one penalty despite Canada winning two of them in games to go along with their two shootouts, missing the opening kick against Brazil, but she played a huge role as a leader instead.
And, unsurprisingly, she did chip in with a goal contribution in the biggest game of all, too, winning the penalty in the final to help Canada equalize that game at 1-1 in the second half after Sweden had scored in the first half, showing her ability to step up in big games.
Thanks to that, she was finally able to have the sort of success for Canada that many worried might never come for her in her career, which you could see what it meant to her and her teammates, with the latter factor being quite key as it seemed they Sinclair’s teammates almost wanted to win the tournament more for their captain than themselves with how they battled for her at every moment possible.