Sinclair has the respect of forever rivals
Ask any of Christine Sinclair’s teammates, and they will give rave reviews of their long-time captain. She’s a leader. A goalscoring legend. The greatest Canadian soccer player of all time.
But it turns out that many of those same sentiments are also held by Canada’s biggest rivals south of the border.
“Everybody loves her. You don't hear anybody say a bad thing about her, on or off the field, because she's just such a classy person,” Becky Sauerbrunn, veteran defender for the U.S. women’s soccer team, told TSN.
Sinclair’s remarkable international career is set to come to a close in the coming days with two final games in B.C. Canada’s women’s soccer team takes on Australia in Victoria on Friday, before Sinclair takes a final bow at BC Place in Vancouver on Tuesday.
Sinclair has undoubtedly made an impact on the world stage, with three Olympic medals, including gold at the Tokyo Games, and 190 international goals, the most all-time. Her legacy is renowned, and not just by her compatriots.
“For us with the U.S. women's national team, I think when you think of the Canadian women's national team, the first thing you probably think of is Sinc – not just her goal-scoring record, but everything that she's done for Canada,” Lindsey Horan, captain of the U.S. national team, told TSN. “I think she literally put them on the map herself because of everything that she's done.”
Sinclair played the Americans more than 40 times during her 23-year career, and the rivalry has grown strong over the years. When Sinclair announced her retirement last month, the U.S. women’s team’s account on X (formerly Twitter) posted their congratulations, only to discover that Sinclair had blocked them.
Though fierce, the rivalry has largely been one-sided. Sinclair and Co. beat the U.S. just three times over that stretch. Despite their dominance, the Americans were always on high alert when No. 12 was on the pitch. Sinclair scored 11 goals in her career against the U.S.
“We need to be aware of Sinc and everything that she can do. Even later on in her career, you knew that if any ball fell the right way to Sinc… we need to be able to stop that,” Horan said.
Sauerbrunn has been with the U.S. national team for over 15 years, making more than 200 appearances for her country, with her first cap coming against Canada in Jan. 2008. As a defender, she faced off directly with Sinclair on numerous occasions.
“She's so intelligent with how she plays,” Sauerbrunn said. “The way that she moves off the ball – she always times it so well that it's really difficult to defend.”
But one quality stands out above all others for Sauerbrunn.
“What separates her from other attackers is her precision – her precision with her passing, her momentum. Her finishing is a beautiful thing to watch. She can place that ball wherever she wants to place it, wherever she is on the field. And it's such a wonderful talent to have that I don't see a lot in the women's game,” she said.
It’s not only the current generation of U.S. players who applaud Sinclair. Past American stars are also quick to sing her praises.
Julie Foudy is a two-time World Cup champion and won a pair of Olympic gold medals. The long-time captain of the U.S. national team played for over 15 years and earned 274 caps in her career, fifth-most all-time for the U.S. national team.
“The crazy thing about Christine Sinclair is she's not flashy, but yet she's the greatest goal scorer to ever live,” Foudy told TSN. “You give her a look, and she's going to put it away. She didn't need a lot of looks. And you contrast that with a lot of finishers – they need the looks. They need the repetition in front of goal.”
Heather O’Reilly made 231 appearances for the U.S. from 2002 to 2016, winning three Olympic gold medals and the 2015 World Cup.
“She has been a very respected rival of mine for forever,” O’Reilly told TSN. “We never played together on the same team. I just have a ton of respect for how she's carried herself. She just has put her head down and worked… I felt really convicted to speak about her because I think greatness deserves that, and she’s been that for the women’s game.”
O’Reilly also had a front-row seat for Sinclair’s most iconic performance: her hat trick against the U.S. at the 2012 Olympics. O’Reilly substituted into the game in extra time and set up Alex Morgan’s game-winning goal that denied Sinclair and Canada their chance at gold.
“It was just like a complete domination by this one player. We were just getting completely outdone not by Canada, but by Christine Sinclair,” she said. “I think that match has to go down in the history books for the women's national team of the U.S. as one that we were just completely outdone by this one person.”
Even after the Americans pulled out the victory, O’Reilly said the team was left stunned by Sinclair’s performance.
“We went back into the locker room… We were just in disbelief about it, not laughing in like a ridiculing way, but just the irony that this woman just scored a hat trick against the No. 1 team in the world and she's devastated.”
O’Reilly and Foudy also see a lot of similarities between Sinclair and American legend Mia Hamm.
The U.S. star was the former record holder for most international goals with 158 until she was beaten by fellow American Abby Wambach in 2013 (who was then surpassed by Sinclair in 2020).
“There are so many parallels. It's so crazy, because Mia was the exact same way,” said Foudy, who was Hamm’s teammate for 15 seasons. “She didn't want the attention. She didn't want to be the star. She never wanted it to be about her. She wanted it to be about the group.”
While Hamm and Sinclair both preferred to stay out of the spotlight, they also understood the impact they could have.
“You have to shoulder the burden, some would say, of having to be the face of the sport, and yet, both Mia and Christine so graciously did just that, and in such a beautiful way in terms of bringing more people into the women's sports space,” Foudy said.
“People love Christine Sinclair because she's salt of the earth, very grounded, very humble, and as you can see with her teammates, people love to be around her.”
Both Sauerbrunn and Horan learned that when they became Sinclair’s teammates with the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League. Horan played with Sinclair from 2016 to 2022, while Sauerbrunn joined the club in 2020.
After years of playing against Sinclair on the international stage, Sauerbrunn discovered a new side to the Canadian.
“She has the most dry sense of humour and says the most outrageous things, and I also, as someone who has a dry sense of humour, really appreciate that from another person,” she said.
Sauerbrunn, who has spent time as captain for both club and country, also learned to appreciate Sinclair’s approach with her teammates.
“She is just this quiet leader – just the gravity of her, all this respect. It's so fun to watch and be in a room with her,” she said. “But when things are really important, like if there's a team meeting, if it's about leadership or tactics, she uses her voice, and you can just tell that she's so well-respected because everyone is listening to every single word she has to say.”
During her time with the Thorns, Horan would watch Sinclair closely on finishing drills. She noticed that while a lot of players were trying to hit for power, Sinclair was very purposeful with her shot selection and her placement.
“It was a reminder every single day for me – you need to play with intention, be purposeful with everything that you're doing,” she said.
Horan also credits Sinclair with one of the biggest lessons of her career, one that stretches beyond the pitch: be authentic.
“She showed me how you can stay you throughout this entire career,” she said. “We get put in like a very weird world here, being professional athletes and playing World Cups, Olympics, and staying grounded and just staying who you are. Sinc showed me that was possible, and Sinc did that every single day.
“Being able to play with her for so many years in Portland was one of the best parts of my career.”
Despite their six seasons as teammates, one of Horan’s fondest memories of Sinclair came when the two faced off on opposite sides of the pitch at the Tokyo Olympics. Canada and the U.S. met in the semifinals of the tournament, with the Canadians finally toppling their rivals with a 1-0 win.
For Sinclair, not only was it her first win against the Americans since 2001, but it was a chance for her to play for a gold medal and win a major tournament for the first time in her career.
Despite the magnitude of the moment, Sinclair made it a priority to check on Horan, who was visibly distraught after the final whistle was blown. The Canadian hugged her Thorns teammate and shared some words of encouragement.
“We have to remember that about Sinc. She cared for me in that moment. And she wanted to make sure I was okay before going and celebrating with her team,” Horan said.
“That's a moment that I love to share now because it shows who Sinc is, and I'm so grateful... I heard some amazing words from one of the greatest players of all time.”
Sauerbrunn and Horan believe that Sinclair has not gotten the worldwide recognition she deserves in terms of FIFA Player of the Year awards or other individual accolades. But she will forever have the respect of her peers.
“In the women’s game, we all recognize Sinc. She’s one of the most incredible women's and men's football players in the world... If you ask anyone that's played with her, played against her, you will hear nothing but the best,” Horan said.
Her former opponents also realize the enormity of her retirement from the international game.
“Her not on the field is going to be so weird because she has defined the sport for so long and Canada for so long. And to have someone who is so loved and respected by other players, other countries – it's just really unheard of,” Foudy said.
“You have your rivalries and you have your intense moments with teams. And yet, she is a player that is, honestly, loved so broadly, by so many players in so many countries. To not have her there is going to be a huge miss for women soccer.”