Friday 26 June 2020, 13:00

Sinclair: The support for my record was incredible

  • Christine Sinclair discusses becoming international football’s all-time top scorer

  • The Canada icon had an “emotional breakdown” when she won an Olympic medal

  • Hails Jordyn Huitema, Julie Ertz, Becky Sauerbrunn, Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan

'Cause you may not believe That, baby, I'm relieved

The Michael Buble lyrics on It's a Beautiful Day summed up how a fellow Burnaby, British Colombia native felt on a beautiful day for Canadian soccer earlier this year.

Christine Sinclair had finally ended her Gretzky-on-Gordie quest to outrank Abby Wambach and become international football’s all-time record scorer. So, while Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, FIFA President Gianni Infantino, two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, tennis goddess Billie Jean King, Wambach and, perhaps most movingly for the No12-sporting, baseball-loving striker, MLB Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar waxed lyrical over her accomplishment, was Sinclair billboarding her feat on Twitter, cartwheeling on Instagram Live, or sinking Snow Crab Bloody Ceasars and Canadian Rock Shots in ecstasy?

None of that. Sinclair penned a self-effacing Tweet then serenely laid on her bed in an Edinburg, Texas hotel with one overriding emotion: “Believe it or not, I felt big relief.”

It was emblematic of an uber-introvert who, as the masses languished during lockdown, “thrived” in isolation. On the eve of the 37-year-old forward’s return to action, Sinclair took time out to chat to about the aforementioned record, having an “emotional breakdown” when she won an Olympic medal in 2012, Canada’s determination to best bronze at Tokyo 2020, the gap between them and USA, the amazing atmospheres at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, Portland Thorns’ prospects, and when she plans to retire. Christine, how did it feel to become international football’s record scorer?

Christine Sinclair: It’s a huge honour and an amazing accomplishment, but to be honest it was just a sigh of relief and a weight off my shoulders, because it was something that was coming for a number of years. It was ticking down, the goals were ticking away, and it was a sigh of relief – I’m not going to lie.

How nice was it to receive such congratulations from Abby Wambach?

The wide variety of people who reached out to me after I broke the record was pretty incredible. Obviously hearing from Abby, but also a lot of players from my past – team-mates and opponents. It was pretty special. The football world’s a pretty small one and in moments like that you realise just how close we all are.

The standard of Concacaf teams has improved significantly, and Canada had a tough group draw. How did it feel to beat Jamaica, Mexico and finally Costa Rica to qualify for Tokyo 2020?

The quality of the Concacaf teams, it’s incredibly tough in there. You saw with the World Cup in France – Jamaica qualifying was crazy. You see the growth of the game in those countries. For the US and Canada, it’s becoming more and more challenging to qualify. Especially with the way the Concacaf tournament works – it’s a lot of games in a short space of time. It always comes down to that one game – you win or you go home. We could play Costa Rica ten times and beat them ten times, but when it comes down to a game like that, you never know what’s going to happen.

Canada gave the USA a really tough first half in the final, and have given the USA some firm examinations in recent years. Can you tell us about the gap between the two teams?

The US is the number one team in the world, and they are for a reason. You saw in that final the sheer depth that they have. That was our fifth game of the tournament in a span of 12 or 13 days – something crazy like that. I thought we played very well that first half. They had chances, we had chances. It was a pretty even game. But they’re still that team who capitalise on any mistakes you make. We made a couple of individual mistakes. They punished us. That’s just the quality that they have on the roster.

If you had to single out one player as the USA’s best, who would you go for?

Oh, geez. Honestly, I don’t even know. It seems to change every tournament, every game. I think their most consistent performer recently has been Julie Ertz. She’s a rock that seems to play 90 minutes every game. They just have quality oozing from their roster.

Jordyn Huitema played a fantastic tournament and finished as its top scorer. What do you think of her as a player, and just how good can she become?

Her potential is unlimited. What you saw in that tournament is that she’s a natural goalscorer. You give her a chance and she’ll be able to put it away. I think it’s helped her a lot going overseas and playing and seeing some different challenges. The future’s very bright for the Canada soccer team with her on it. She’s really great.

Can you describe how it feels to win an Olympic medal?

For me, winning an Olympic medal was a childhood dream. Growing up, you didn’t hear much about the women’s national team, but it was always a dream of mine to be an Olympian and win an Olympic medal. The first one we won in London, I had an emotional breakdown on the field realising we’d just beat France and I was going to have an Olympic medal. That first one was so special. The second one, I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed not to win a bigger medal. At those Olympics we were playing the best football of any team in the tournament. We beat Germany, we beat France, we beat Australia. We honestly just came up a little short in the semis. It’s more of a ‘what could have been’.

You’ve won back-to-back Olympic bronze medals. Are you confident Canada get better at the next Olympics?

That’s the plan. That’s what we’re preparing for. Our motto is, ‘We’re sick of bronze and we want something better’. It’s to get past that semi-final match that’s cost us the last two Olympic Games. There’s desire and belief we can get to the top of the podium this time.

How was your France 2019 experience?

Obviously with the way it ended, I think all of us have that feeling of disappointment. But as a sheer fan of the game, and someone who’s passionate about seeing the growth of the women’s game, it was absolutely amazing to be a part of. To play in those stadiums, to play in front of those crowds. The growth of the women’s game, this is just the start of it. For the World Cups to come, it’s only going to get bigger and better.

How excited are you that the NWSL will return with the Challenge Cup?

I’m really excited to play again, but I’m torn. The Thorns made some big, big changes in the off-season. I was just so excited to play with this group of players over the course of a season. I miss playing in front of our fans at Providence Park. We’ve got a month in Utah. It just won’t be the same. But at the same time we’re excited to play again.

Portland Thorns fell just short in 2018 and 2019. Are you confident 2020 will be a title-winning season for you?

That’s why I’m so disappointed. We brought in some world-class players like Becky Sauerbrunn, Rocky Rodriguez. We’ve got some great young talent. You’re just really excited about what this team would be capable of achieving throughout the course of the season. But we’re ready and excited, and hopefully next year things can return to normal and we can play a full season.

You mentioned Sauerbrunn. What’s she like as a player?

I’ve trained with her now and she’s just class. Great person off the field and an incredible soccer player. As a nine, she’s one of the hardest centre-backs I’ve played against in my career. She’s so darn smart. You think you have her beat, but she’s always in the right spot and she makes it look easy, she never seems too stressed. I’m really excited to be on her team and not playing against her.

And what about Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan?

Gosh! The things Tobin can do with the ball, not many female soccer players can do. And Lindsey, for me it’s been great to see her development over the past three years. When she first came to the Thorns, she’d been in France but she was still young. Now she bosses games. She runs games. I’ve seen her shift from an out-an-out striker as a youth player to dominating any midfield in the women’s game. It’s pretty cool to see.

What did you do to pass the time during lockdown?

I spent a few weeks of lockdown in Florida, so I enjoyed some sun. I worked on my golf game a little bit. I’ve spent some quality time with my dog. I watched a little Netflix. But to be honest, I’m an introvert, and lockdown just wasn’t a problem for me. I have not minded at all having my space. I think I’ve been thriving in it!

Finally, when do you foresee yourself retiring?

That’s a question! (laughs) I don’t know. My whole thing is that I was going to wait till 2020 and the Olympics and see. Next thing you know the Olympics is not happening till next year. So I guess we’ll play the Olympics next year and see what happens from there.