Christine Sinclair calls time on international career in emotional farewell game
VANCOUVER — Christine Sinclair went out the way she wanted to. With a win.
But there were also tears, a bumper crowd of 48,112, and a little Celine Dion on Tuesday. In the wake of Canada’s 1-0 win over Australia in Sinclair’s farewell international game, one Canadian icon played out another.
Current and former Canadian players joined the 40-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., on the field in a circle for a singalong to Dion’s “The Power of Love.” Sinclair then moved toward the stands to bang a drum, leading a Viking clap in front of the fans.
Sinclair did not speak to the media after the game, restricting her comments to a pair of TV interviews.
“Honestly just joy,” Sinclair said when asked what she would remember about the night. “I’ve done everything I can on this national team. I’m 100 per cent satisfied and content. And to go out with a win in front of my friends, in front of my family, honestly, it’s been the perfect night.”
Sinclair helped Canada get the win in her international swansong, wiping away pre-game tears to help set up the game’s lone goal in the 40th minute.
Sinclair rose to head a Jessie Fleming corner across the goal. The ball went to defender Kadeisha Buchanan whose shot banged off the crossbar. A waiting Quinn, who goes by one name, headed it home for their sixth goal in 95 Canadian appearances.
“The set play, we designed that to try and get her (Sinclair) the goal,” said Canada coach Bev Priestman. “But it ultimately set up the goal, regardless.”
Quinn was the ultimate benefactor.
“Sinc saying ‘Thank you for scoring for me tonight’ is something I’ll remember for a long time,” they said.
Sinclair gave way to 35-year-old Sophie Schmidt of Abbotsford, B.C., in the 58th minute, marking the end of a glittering international career that produced a world-record 190 goals and a legion of fans.
Teammates embraced her on the field as the enthusiastic crowd stood and cheered. Sinclair handed the captain’s armband to Schmidt and hugged her longtime friend before applauding the crowd and embracing Priestman.
Sinclair leaves having made 331 senior appearances, including 313 starts and played 27,601 minutes for Canada.
Only retired American Kristine Lilly has more international caps to her credit with 354. No man or woman has more international goals.
The talismanic Sinclair, a role model on and off the field, has been the face of Canadian soccer for years — an unassuming star with no taste for the spotlight. But she was front and centre Tuesday, tearing up in a pre-game ceremony that also honoured Schmidt and goalkeeper Erin McLeod.
B.C. Place Stadium was renamed Christine Sinclair Place for the night, lit up with neon Canadian flags on the outside.
“Thank you for inspiring all of us,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a pre-game social media post. “Your impact on the game, and on sports in Canada, is something we’ll be celebrating for quite some time.”
Australia, fielding a far stronger squad than the experimental lineup thumped 5-0 Friday in Langford, B.C., came forward from the get-go with Canada looking to threaten on the counterattack.
The 10th-ranked Canadians grew into the game as the first half wore on.
Sinclair started up front but, as is her wont, routinely moved back to help the defence. She showed a nice touch early, pivoting to keep the ball away from an Australian before passing it to a teammate.
The crowd rose as one in the 12th minute to honour Sinclair, who wears No. 12. Australia almost scored during the ovation, with goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan getting to a loose ball in the penalty box first.
A Sinclair cross almost produced another goal. Canada defender Vanessa Gilles scored in the first half but the goal was called off due to a foul.
Australia, ranked 11th in the world, came close in the 47th minute with Buchanan heading away a ball destined for goal off a corner. A minute later at the other end, goalkeeper Teagan Micah got to the ball just before an onrushing Sinclair did.
Nichelle Prince almost made it 2-0 in the 66th minute, using her speed to outpace a defender only to put her shot just wide.
Sheridan led Canada out as the teams took the field.
Ten members of the 2012 bronze-medallist team, including Karina LeBlanc, Diana Matheson, Marie-Eve Nault, Carmelina Moscato, Desiree Scott and Melissa Tancredi, formed an honour guard to welcome their three former teammates to the pitch.
McLeod came out first, followed by a beaming Schmidt. Sinclair came out last, accompanied by nieces Kaitlyn and Kenzie to a standing ovation. Sinclair, who seemed to be fighting back tears, tapped her heart in recognition of the welcome.
The three players were presented with framed jerseys by Canada Soccer president Charmaine Crooks and Jason deVos, Canada Soccer’s acting general secretary.
“You are truly a national treasure,” said former star speedskater Catriona Le May Doan.
Sinclair wiped her eyes and hugged her nieces, who were crying, after a tribute video played on the giant scoreboard above.
“I don’t think you could do any more to send them off,” said Priestman. “I think we gave some absolute legends an unbelievable sendoff.”
Sinclair’s name was greeted with a roar when the starting lineups were announced over the PA system. And the Canadians exited the field after the warm-up to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” part of Sinclair’s pre-game playlist since her days at the University of Portland.
Sinclair said Sunday she had requested 145 tickets for friends and family — and was running out. Her brother Mike said there were 43 family members alone.
Canada Soccer said the attendance was the largest-ever for a women’s national team friendly in Canada. It was well above the Vancouver Whitecaps MLS attendance record of 30,204 fans at B.C. Place set a month earlier in a 1-0 playoff loss to Los Angeles FC.
Canada Soccer said it was the seventh-largest crowd ever for a Canadian national soccer team game.
The Canadian women played before an announced crowd of 54,027 at B.C. Place at the 2015 World Cup when they lost 2-1 to England in the quarterfinal. Sinclair, Schmidt and McLeod all started that day.
Sinclair and the Canadians took the pitch for their pre-game warm-up to the sounds of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” Sinclair wore a jersey with No. 13 — Schmidt’s number — while her teammates wore No. 12.
Priestman said Sinclair didn’t tell anyone she was going to wear Schmidt’s number in the warm-up.
“That to me, in that moment, that absolutely epitomizes her,” Priestman said of her captain. “She knows the world’s watching her and she doesn’t want her teammate to get forgotten. I thought that was absolute class.”
There were plenty more No. 12 jerseys in the stands. And a giant No. 1 and 2 came out before kickoff, flanking a tifo, or large banner image, of Sinclair, as well as signs saying “Greatest of all time.”
A pair of bespoke boots arrived earlier in the day for Sinclair from Nike’s Italian factory, complete with the No. 185 — her record-setting goal scored Jan. 29, 2024, in an 11-0 romp over St. Kitts and Nevis at the CONCACAF Olympic Women’s Qualifier in Edinburg, Texas — and other personal details.
Canada Soccer said more than 20 Canada Soccer Hall of Famers and more than 50 former internationals were on hand to witness Sinclair’s farewell.
It was also Schmidt’s final Canada outing — and 226th cap. The midfielder, retired from international football after this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand but came back to time her on-field departure with her longtime friend and oft roommate on the road.
The 40-year-old McLeod, who was a spectator Tuesday, retired in January after 119 international appearances.
Sinclair was 16 when she made her senior debut on March 12, 2000, in a 4-0 loss to China, opening her senior account two days later in a 2-1 loss to Norway.
In the years since however, she has won a trio of Olympic medals, gold, bronze and bronze, been named Canada Player of the Year 14 times and played at six World Cups, scoring in five of them.
Sinclair plans to play one more season with her club team, the NWSL’s Portland Thorns. Schmidt (Houston Dash) and McLeod (Iceland’s Stjarnan FC) also plan to continue club football.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press