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SportsCentre Year In Review: Sinclair powers Canadian soccer

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Jason deVos, TSN Soccer Analyst
12/19/2012 10:02:00 AM
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Leading up to SportsCentre's Year In Review on Christmas Eve, TSN and TSN.ca look back at each of the Top 10 stories of 2012. And TSN's reporters and analysts who covered the events as they happened offer their personal reflections on the stories.

Today, TSN soccer analyst Jason deVos recaps Canada's impressive run in women's soccer at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games - headlined by Christine Sinclair.

On Aug. 6, Canada's Olympic women's soccer team lost a heartbreaking semifinal to the United States by a score of 4-3. The United States would go on to beat Japan for the gold medal a few days later, while Canada would come home with the bronze thanks to a timely goal from the diminutive Diana Matheson, that gave Canada a 1-0 victory over France.

While the bronze medal victory was front-page news across the country, it was that stunning semifinal loss to the U.S. that caught the attention of the world.

Three times Canada was in the lead, only to be pegged back by the No. 1 team in women's soccer. A controversial call – a six-second delay of game violation on Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod - made by Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen led to the United States scoring the third equalizer from the penalty spot. The U.S. went on to score the winning goal in the final seconds of extra time, putting an end to a gutsy performance from the Canadians.

The game had everything a soccer fan could ask for and led some pundits to suggest it was one of the best games ever played.

While that suggestion is certainly open for debate, there can be no debate about the performance of Canada's captain Christine Sinclair. It was the best individual performance by a Canadian soccer player – male or female – of all time.

The fact that Sinclair scored all three goals for Canada against the United States is not really a surprise. She has, after all, made a habit of scoring goals for her country during her career – 143 in total, 23 in 2012 alone.

And Canada's rivalry with the United States is about as one-sided as a rivalry can get. Canada has only managed to win three of their 52 games and hasn't triumphed over the U.S. since 2001. But at the Olympics, on the hallowed turf of Old Trafford where Manchester United calls home, the Americans got the scare of their lives from Sinclair.

What was impressive was just how clinical Sinclair was against the Americans.

Her first goal was the very definition of composure. She picked up a clever layoff from Melissa Tancredi, sidestepped a challenge in the penalty box before side-footing the ball into the bottom left corner and beyond the reach of American goalkeeper Hope Solo.

Her second and third goals were a lesson in movement and precision. Both headed goals, accurately placed just inside the left post. Sinclair's ability to break free from the defender on both occasions was textbook attacking play; a drop of the shoulder and a quick movement in the opposite direction was enough to grant her enough space to have a free header, which she duly dispatched into the back of the net.

The legacy of that semifinal loss, coupled with Canada's bronze medal victory, is a significant one.

Despite the outcome of the game against the United States, the story of the 2012 Olympic Games was Canada's women's soccer team. Christine Sinclair carried the Canadian flag in the closing ceremonies and along with her teammates, did more to raise the profile of Canadian women's soccer than anyone could have imagined.

Friends of mine – died-in-the-wool hockey fans – called to tell me about their experiences watching the team throughout the tournament.

"We were jumping around the living room like we did when Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal in 2010!"

"I can't believe we got robbed like that! But man, that Sinclair is one helluva player!"

From diehard soccer fanatics to casual sports viewers who only watch the Olympics every four years - everyone knows about Christine Sinclair and the Canadian women's soccer team.

With Canada hosting the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2015, now is the perfect time to capitalize on this awareness to help grow the sport in Canada. Sinclair and her teammates can, and should, be household names when the first game kicks off in 2015 and the onus is on the CSA and the Canadian media to make this a reality.

Sinclair is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. There's no one in Canada who even comes close to her level of ability, and very few in the world that can be mentioned in the same sentence. Playing in a World Cup on home soil in 2015 will be the crown jewel in a career that will see Sinclair remembered as the best Canadian player of all-time. 



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