A Canadian sports icon has taken her place in history.
Christine Sinclair scored her 185th international goal Wednesday against St. Kitts and Nevis at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Edinburg, Texas, to become the all-time leading scorer in international soccer history.
The feat breaks Abby Wambach’s previous mark, which the retired American forward had held since scoring goal No. 184 on Aug. 19, 2015. Canada went on to win Wednesday's matchup 11-0.
“It’s an unbelievable feat and accomplishment,” said Carmelina Moscato, Sinclair’s teammate on the Canadian women’s national team from 2002 to 2015. “It’s unfathomable to think it’s on the men’s and women’s side. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s void of gender… It’s her life’s work that’s now going to get her the recognition she deserves.”
This is an accomplishment three decades in the making, beginning on March 12, 2000, when a 16-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., stepped onto the pitch for the first time for Canada. Two days later, she scored career goal No. 1 against Norway at the Algarve Cup.
Since then, Sinclair has been one of the most consistent goal scorers to ever play the sport. She has averaged just under 10 goals annually for her country for the past 20 years. She has scored 11 times at the Olympics and is one of two players to ever score at five different World Cups, tallying 10 goals total.
Sinclair’s career resume goes beyond her ability to find the back of the net. She won two NCAA championships, and earned the MAC Hermann Trophy in back-to-back years in 2004 and 2005 as the top collegiate soccer player, the first Canadian to win the award. She still holds the NCAA record for most goals in a season, scoring 39 times in 25 games in 2005.
She has won two Olympic bronze medals, a Pan American gold medal, and four club championships. She’s a member of Canada’s Walk of Fame, and an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2012, she won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year.
For her former teammates, she absolutely deserves to be in the conversation of the greatest all-time Canadian athletes, among the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Hayley Wickenheiser.
“Christine has been amongst the upper echelon of Canadian athletes,” said Moscato. “What she has done to sports for Canadians is given us memories that we’ll never ever forget. Obviously the Olympics stand out, but just her consistency over the years – a top goal scorer, always comes through for the team. There’s not much she hasn’t done, other than obviously getting another colour medal at the Olympics. You’ll always hear her say she’d wish she had done more at the World Cup, and this and that, but when you ask about one person’s effect on a program, on a nation, on inspiring athletes – there’s no one who has done more than her for the game for us, the men’s and women’s side.”
“She’s the Wayne Gretzky of female sports in Canada,” said Kaylyn Kyle, Sinclair’s teammate from 2008 to 2015. “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, put it in on her back, and we’ve been on two podiums because of her. She’ll say it was it was a team effort. It wasn’t. It was Christine Sinclair, and we just followed her.”
Kyle is one of many past and current national team players that grew up idolizing the Canadian captain. One of her first encounters with Sinclair was watching her play at the FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship in Edmonton, where she finished with 10 goals in six matches, earning the Golden Shoe and the Golden Ball as tournament MVP, and helped Canada to a second-place finish.
“I remember watching how she played, and her movement on and off the ball, and how she carried herself,” said Kyle. “That made me want to play for the national team, which, as a little girl from Saskatchewan, I didn’t think was ever possible. After that tournament, I knew it was possible.”
“I know myself growing up I looked to the national team, but she was at [the] forefront for scoring goals and helping put Canada on the map,” said defender Ashley Lawrence, who joined the national team in 2013. “I think that she does such a great job inspiring others by leading by example. Now being a part of the team, she continues every day to be an example, putting in the time, putting in the work, and it just seems so effortless.”
Despite a list of accomplishments that deserves its own Wikipedia page, there is one accolade missing for Sinclair: global recognition. Sinclair has never won FIFA Player of the Year. While she has been shortlisted seven times, she has never even been named as one of the final three nominees.
When asked if Sinclair gets the credit she deserves, Kyle’s answer is simple: “God no.”
“When you look at the top FIFA [lists] and she’s not amongst it, you almost scratch your head and say, ‘She’s not getting the recognition, and why is that?’” said Moscato. “Does she need to score more goals? I wouldn’t say that. It’s something about Canada [not] getting that recognition.”
This omission was especially noteworthy in 2012, when Sinclair scored 23 goals in 22 games for Canada, including an Olympic-record six times at the London Games. While Wambach, who was named FIFA Player of the Year in 2012, and Alex Morgan, one of the finalists, both scored more goals than Sinclair that year, the third nominee, Marta, had three goals for Brazil in 2012, and wasn’t even the top scorer for her club.
The 2012 Olympics was also the setting for Sinclair’s most iconic game of her career: her hat-trick performance in the semi-final against the United States. Although Canada went on to lose that game 4-3 in controversial fashion, Sinclair’s fiery passion is forever ingrained in many Canadians’ memories.
“She was untouchable,” said Moscato. “She had a focus in her eyes, and an aura about her that was determined to get the job done for her country, for her family, for her teammates. There was nothing that was going to stop that woman that day.
“When that fourth goal went in for the U.S. … it was heartbreaking. I was on the pitch, and I just felt sad for her, that we couldn’t pull that off her for her.”
“I remember not wanting to go on the pitch,” recalled Kyle. “I remember I was a substitute that game, and I remember [head coach] John [Herdman] looked down at me and said, ‘Get warmed up.’ I remember I was like, ‘I do not want to go into this game. Christine Sinclair is literally a monster.’
“[She] should have won player of the year [in 2012],” Kyle added. “She basically carried her national team on her back. I don’t think she gets the recognition she deserves because she’s from Canada, because we don’t win Olympic gold medals, World Cups. I don’t think she’ll ever be recognized in that way.”
But for Moscato, the lack of wins for Canada in major tournaments shouldn’t be a reason to disregard Sinclair.
“There’s no list that she shouldn’t be on,” she said. “Marta hasn’t won a World Cup. When you start to think of it that way, what is the criteria? Is it winning these things? When you think of Abby, or Alex Morgan, or Megan [Rapinoe], they’ve all won [major tournaments] multiple times. But other top women haven’t, and they’re still among those lists. It’s perplexing in a lot of ways.”
Even with Sinclair now holding the title of the undisputed top scorer of all-time, there are critics who try to diminish the accomplishment. They’ll point to the fact that Wambach scored her 184 goals in 255 caps over 14 years, while it took Sinclair a little more than 20 years and 290 appearances to reach her mark.
But one important factor to consider is the amount of games each country played annually, and the fact that the United States on average scheduled more friendlies than Canada over the years. During Wambach’s career with her national team, she averaged just over 18 caps per year, compared to a little over 14 for Sinclair. There were three years – 2004, 2005, 2009 – where Canada didn’t even play 10 games.
Moreover, 100 of Wambach’s goals, or 54 per cent, came from friendlies. Only 40 of Sinclair’s tallies – a little over 20 per cent – came from such games.
“People haven’t marketed her properly,” said Kyle. “Sinclair is the best player in the world, and with Canada, I just feel like we didn’t do a good enough job for her. We should have been playing more games.”
There’s also the fact that Sinclair is, frankly, irreplaceable for the Canadian national team. As dominant as Wambach was in her career, the American team has always had a plethora of offensive threats, with the likes of Morgan, Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, and Christen Press. Both Lloyd and Morgan have more than 100 goals. Rapinoe and Press each have at least 50.
No other Canadian, male or female, has ever scored 100 goals. The closest is Charmaine Hooper, who finished with 71. The current active player with the most goals behind Sinclair: Janine Beckie. She has 27.
“When you look at someone like Abby Wambach, not to take anything away from her, but the U.S. has been so talented for decades, and they’ve had games where they’ve blown teams out of the water, 9-0, 10-0,” said Beckie, Sinclair’s teammate on the national team since 2014. “[Wambach] was an incredible goal scorer, but to see Christine do it in the decades where the team hasn’t been as talented and she’s had to do more on her own, it’s even more impressive. I know a lot of people won’t realize that, and that’s unfortunate. I’ll personally do my best to make sure people do.”
In her 20 years with the Canadian national team, Sinclair has accounted for at least 25 per cent of the team’s annual offence 14 times. In 2012, she scored 23 of the team’s 45 goals – over half. In 2009, Canada only scored six times in seven games – Sinclair had four of those goals.
Canadian media often pose the question: where would Canada be without Sinclair?
“Not on back-to-back podiums,” said Moscato. “Canada wouldn’t be where they are today, that’s for sure. Although we’re really proud of our national team, and all the other women that have stepped up on a variety of occasions, there’s no one like her.”
Sinclair may be constantly overlooked for individual awards because, quite simply, no one notices her. She has never been flashy like Marta, dancing her way through an opponent’s backline with a flick of a backheel. She has never been a dominating physical presence like Wambach, despite her 5-foot-9 frame. What has made Sinclair such a prolific offensive threat are her inconspicuous traits.
“Timing, intuition, things that I don’t know if you necessarily can teach,” said Moscato. “Sometimes people are born like it, but I hate to reduce it to that, because it’s more than that. She’s not just born with talent. She’s obviously put a lot of time into her craft, but it has a lot to do with the art of football: where to be, when to be there.”
“She doesn’t do anything outrageous,” said Beckie. “She’s not the kind of player that flicks the ball over her head, juggles it five times, and hits the upper 90. There are those kinds of players, but those kinds of players are up-and-down kinds of players. She’s the most consistent striker I’ve ever played with because she’s one of the most simple I’ve ever seen.”
“You don’t really notice her too much until she has put it in the back of the net,” said Kenneth Heiner-Møller, head coach of the Canadian national team since 2018. “If you go to some of our sessions, you can see how hard she is working to be that unnoticeable player.”
That understated nature is also how she has conducted herself as Canada’s captain for over a decade. She’s often a woman of few words, especially when it comes to talking about her own accomplishments. Sinclair has been fielding questions about her pursuit of the goal-scoring record for years. While she will always be courteous with her time, her answers are usually succinct, accompanied by a smirk, a slight shrug, maybe even a playful eye roll.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone more humble that I think it actually makes her upset to talk about [the record],” said Beckie.
“She’s a very quiet captain,” said Kyle. “Usually captains are hoorah, in your face, scream and shout, very vocal on the pitch. That’s not Christine Sinclair at all. She’s a very quiet leader, but she leads without words. She leads in her play, and it’s almost scarier, if I’m being completely honest, because you don’t want to disappoint her. You know if you make a bad pass, she doesn’t even have to say anything. She has this look in her eyes where you’re like, ‘Oh s--t, [I] disappointed Christine Sinclair.’”
One of Kyle’s fondest memories of her former captain came at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. Kyle was chosen as a starter for Canada’s first game, which was against the host nation in Berlin. Kyle recalls being very nervous as she stood in the tunnel, describing the stadium as “shaking.”
“I remember Sinc came behind me, put her hand on my shoulder, and said, ‘Just breathe. Everything’s going to be OK. You know what you’re doing. You were selected for a reason,’ ” Kyle said. “Those are those moments – when she says something, it sticks.”
But off the pitch?
“She can flip this switch,” Kyle said. “She’s funny, she’s super laid back, loves being around the girls, will have a laugh. It’s almost like she has a split personality, but in the best way possible.”
“She’s quite hilarious, actually,” added Moscato. “She’s undercover funny…. If she’s not comfortable with you, you’re not going to see that side of her. But even in interviews, you see the sarcasm a bit.
“On the other end, she’s super professional and serious. She knows when to turn it on and to turn it off, and how to compete. She does bring it every day. When you see her at training and the shifts she puts in, it’s unbelievable how she’s able to maintain that level of work rate and be a role model for everybody around her. And every teammate that’s ever been interviewed has said that about her: she’s a role model because of how she takes care of herself, how she trains, her approach to the game. It’s very inspiring.”
“She is a world class footballer, but also her character is unbelievable,” said Heiner-Møller. “You see players or athletes occasionally at her level in the international game or in many different sports that [don’t] put the work in, and they cannot lead. They can be a great player, but they cannot lead… She is maybe the most professional player in every single environment I’ve been in.”
Hard working, modest, with a low-key sense of humour – in many ways Sinclair is the quintessential Canadian. And now, she’s a part of history.
“This record is going to do what I think she deserves, and she will get global recognition,” said Moscato. “She had to score 185 goals to do it, but that’s okay. We’ll take it.”