Christine Sinclair’s impact on Canadian soccer — on and off the pitch — will be felt forever

Christine Sinclair’s impact on Canadian soccer is eternal. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images) (FIFA via Getty Images)

Christine Sinclair revolutionized Canadian soccer, leaving an indelible mark on the sport.

Sinclair, who recently announced her retirement, is a legendary figure in Canadian athletics. Her extraordinary skills on the field and her tireless advocacy off the field make her one of the greatest athletes in Canadian history. Furthermore, her career reflects the evolution of women’s soccer in Canada.

Sinclair emerged as a prodigy in the Burnaby, B.C. youth circuit, debuting for the senior national team at the 2000 Algarve Cup, where she scored three goals. Prior to Sinclair, Charmaine Hooper, who participated in three World Cups and scored 71 goals in 129 international caps, was the standard-bearer. However, it became evident that Sinclair was the successor, a talented teenager adept at timing her runs to beat offside traps.

Canada’s fourth-place finish in the 1999 World Cup, marked by U.S. defender Brandi Chastain’s iconic celebration after defeating China, set the stage for Sinclair’s rise to prominence.

Sinclair truly ascended to national recognition during her dominant college career at the University of Portland, where she won national titles in 2002 and 2005, scoring a remarkable 110 goals in 92 games. Two decades ago, the NCAA was one of the primary paths to success for women’s players, and Sinclair excelled at every level, while advocating for the establishment of a sustainable professional league.

At the age of 20, Sinclair served as a bridge between the past and future of the Canadian program. She showcased her skills and fearlessness during the 2003 Women’s World Cup, scoring three goals, including Canada’s only goal in the third-place game against the United States.

Sinclair and the Canadian national team didn’t always see eye to eye. In 2006, coach Even Pellerud excluded Hooper from the roster for the Gold Cup, accusing her of not committing to the national team soon enough. Following an arbitration process, Sinclair, now the team captain, coldly dismissed Hooper, accusing her of letting her teammates down. This incident remains a blemish on an otherwise impeccable career.

Sinclair was not afraid to challenge the hypocrisy of Canada Soccer. Prior to the 2011 World Cup, she led her teammates in a boycott of international games to protest wage inequality with the governing body. This theme of advocating for equal treatment persisted throughout her career.

In her 2022 memoir, “Playing the Long Game,” Sinclair wrote, “In Canada, we assume that we will be fine. We assume that because we’ve been good at this, we will carry on being good. My fear is that we will soon be surpassed by countries that support their youth programs, support their national women’s teams, and also support professional women’s leagues.”

Sinclair experienced both triumph and disappointment in her career. During the 2011 World Cup, she played through injury as Canada suffered a 4-0 defeat to France, temporarily casting doubt on the program’s future. However, Sinclair demonstrated her resilience during the 2012 Summer Olympics, delivering a standout performance in a memorable semifinal match against the United States, widely regarded as one of the greatest contests in soccer history.

Despite Sinclair’s hat-trick, the United States emerged victorious with a last-minute goal. However, Sinclair’s individual achievements, including winning the Golden Boot with six goals, being named Canada’s flag-bearer at the closing ceremonies, and receiving the Lou Marsh Trophy, solidified her status as one of Canada’s greatest athletes. Sinclair played a pivotal role in putting Canadian soccer on the map. Her impact inspired two generations of players and significantly contributed to the growth of women’s soccer in Canada.

In the later stages of her career, Sinclair’s teammates, undoubtedly inspired by her legendary status, provided support when needed. Canada finally defeated the United States in the semifinals of the 2021 Olympics, granting Sinclair the revenge she deserved. In the gold-medal game against Sweden, Sinclair drew a penalty before being substituted. However, her leadership and legacy played a significant role in helping Canada reach the pinnacle of women’s soccer.

In recognition of Sinclair’s remarkable international career, FIFA awarded her the Special Award for an Outstanding Career Achievement in 2021, honoring her as the all-time international goals leader. It is somewhat surprising that Sinclair was never named FIFA World Player of the Year, which may be attributed to the team accomplishments of players like Megan Rapinoe, Marta, and Alexia Putellas. Nevertheless, Sinclair’s impact on women’s soccer is undeniable.

In 2017, Sinclair received Canada’s highest civilian honor and was inducted into the Order of Canada. Prior to Sinclair, Canadian women’s soccer had minimal visibility. Currently, Canada Soccer faces demands for wage equality from both national teams, with the men’s team standing in solidarity with the women’s program. The women’s program has been a source of pride for two decades, epitomized by Sinclair’s reign.

Every future iteration of the women’s national team will carry the influence of Sinclair, reflecting her material accomplishments on the field as a prolific striker and occasional playmaker, as well as her relentless pursuit of a better future for the next generation of Canadian soccer stars.


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