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While growing up outside Vancouver, Canada, Christine Sinclair was a standout soccer and basketball player and was so good at baseball that she made the All-Star team in a boys’ league.
That left her with a number of career paths: She could not be a professional soccer player, not be a professional basketball player or not be a professional baseball player. None of those were options for female athletes in Canada back then.
“For the longest time, you went to college. And that was it,” she said. “When I was growing up, there wasn’t a national team and those types of players to look up to. And if there were, they weren’t on TV.”
Sinclair has almost single-handedly changed that since scoring in her second game for Canada’s fledgling national team as a 16-year-old, the first of 186 goals that have made her the most prolific scorer, male or female, in international soccer.
Along the way, soccer has passed hockey as the most popular team sport for kids in Canada and Sinclair has become a star in a country starved for female role models in sports.
“She’s the Wayne Gretzky of female sports in Canada,” Kaylyn Kyle, a former teammate, told TSN. “For me, Christine Sinclair epitomizes what a true Canadian is and what an athlete should look like. She has come in, taken a struggling program [and] put it in on her back.
“She’ll say it was a team effort. It wasn’t. It was Christine Sinclair, and we just followed her.”
They followed her to the knockout rounds of the last two World Cups and to the medal podium of the last two Olympics, something even the top-ranked U.S. team hasn’t managed. And Canada is following Sinclair back to the Olympics this summer after beating Costa Rica on Friday in the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.
Canada will play the U.S., which beat Mexico in the other semifinal, in the tournament final Sunday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson.
Yet, despite all the team accomplishments, Sinclair’s most impressive achievement is the scoring record. With two goals in Canada’s victory over St. Kitts and Nevis in group play of the CONCACAF tournament, she passed Abby Wambach on the all-time list, then added a goal against Mexico.
Setting the record brought notes of congratulations from FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and tennis legend Billie Jean King, as well as a touching video tribute from Wambach.
Cristiano Ronaldo, the top active men’s scorer, has 87 fewer goals than Sinclair. And unlike Wambach or Mia Hamm, who held the record before her, Sinclair has done it all on her own.
“It’s very impressive,” said Julie Foudy, who played on the U.S. national team with Hamm and Wambach. “I didn’t think anyone was going to touch Abby.
“The beauty of Mia was she got Abby toward the end of her career. Abby took a lot pressure off Mia, and Mia took a lot of pressure off Abby. That’s been the strength of the U.S. team for so long, this shared burden up front.”
Seven American women have scored at least 100 international goals. No Canadian other than Sinclair has more than 71.
“Christine,” Foudy said, “didn’t have someone else to take that pressure away.”
There’s far more that unites the three women than what separates them.
They all had a goal scorer’s instinct, something that led them to the right place in front of the net at the right time. They were able to raise their game in big moments, with Wambach scoring 14 goals in World Cup play and Sinclair 11 in the Olympics. And they all put winning above scoring.
“Those three are all about the team first,” Foudy said. “It’s a very individual accolade: You are the greatest scorer in the entire world. And yet they never think that way. You would die for those three to be your teammate because they just make the team so much better.”
Canada has lost only 20 times in the 131 games in which Sinclair has scored.
Sinclair was born into a soccer family and started playing at 4, following in the footsteps of her father, Bill, and uncles Brian and Bruce Gant, all of whom played on amateur championship teams. But the sport competed with basketball and baseball for her attention until just before she entered high school, when she was forced to choose one.
She took soccer, becoming the youngest international in Canadian history, then going to score 110 times in four years at the University of Portland and winning the Hermann Trophy, soccer’s equivalent of football’s Heisman, in consecutive seasons. She’s also the second-leading scorer in NWSL history despite being 30 when the league was founded.
Asked Friday whether she picked the right sport, Sinclair smiled.
“I think so,” she said.
But she would have wasted her time, she added, if the only thing she left behind was a scoring record.
“The game has changed night and day,” she said. “I remember my first World Cup. In Canada and around the world, no one knew what was happening. Last year’s World Cup in France, it was absolutely massive the attention it got worldwide. For me the biggest thing has been the opportunities that are now available for female soccer players.”
“Just to be a part of that change is pretty special.”