Big crowds and big emotions were on the menu as British Columbia’s biggest stadium prepared to play farewell host to one of the country’s most iconic athletes.
The Burnaby native’s final match Tuesday evening against the Australian national team was fittingly scheduled in front of a hometown crowd in Vancouver.
BC Place — for one night only, renamed Christine Sinclair Place — was lit in red and white and emblazoned with the her number, 12. More than 45,000 tickets have been sold for the sendoff.
“We went to see her in Toronto and I cried. And then I cried when I was in Montreal, when I was in Halifax, when I was in Victoria. Now obviously I am going to cry tonight, we already know that,” fan Jasmine Bureau told Global News outside the stadium.
“She’s the greatest player in the world … I’ve been following her since I started when I was three years old, which is the year she started on the national team. We actually flew all the way from Ontario to be here.”
Sinclair isn’t just an icon in Canadian soccer, she’s the global leading goal scorer in both women’s and men’s soccer.
“It’s kind of sinking in now that this is it … (I’m) just trying to enjoy every minute,” Sinclair told reporters on Sunday.
“There’s no secret, it’s a lot of work. But man, it’s the best job in the world.”
In the 40-year-old star’s more than two-decade-long career, she has collected a gold and two bronze medals at the Olympic Games.
She’s also been named Canada Soccer Player of the Year 14 times, and has scored 190 goals in international play.
On Friday, she helped lead the squad to a resounding 5-0 win against the Aussies.
On Monday, following a final practice, teammates reflected on what Sinclair has meant to them.
“My whole journey with the national team has involved her and I don’t know what it’s going to look like without her,” forward Jordyn Huitema said.
Despite her eye-popping statistics sheet, Sinclair’s teammates describe her as unassuming and humble.
“Little moments she probably has no idea about have changed a lot of our lives,” said goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.
“As much as she’s changed the world of soccer and changed the country and landscape of soccer, she still wants more for us than she’s ever wanted for herself.”
As for the impact she’s had on the sport, and in inspiring generations of girls to push themselves to excel, Sinclair says she’s proud.
“To see the growth of the game and to see where it’s at now and the opportunities that are available, whether it’s internationally, whether it’s playing pro — obviously I never though in my career that this was going to happen, and I just feel fortunate to have been a part of that growth,” she said.
Tuesday’s match will be her last international competition, however the 40-year-old intends to play out one more year with her professional team, the Portland Thorns.
What’s next after that remains unclear, though Sinclair says she plans to stay involved with the sport, raising the prospect of a coaching career.
In a video sent to Sinclair through the CBC, Vancouver actor Ryan Reynolds appeared to even jokingly offer her a job at his Welsh soccer team, Wexham AFC.
Tuesday’s event will also include several on- and off-pitch tributes to Sinclair, and a special BC Place concession menu including her favourite foods, while Wednesday will see the stadium host a retirement party with proceeds going to the new Christine Sinclair Foundation dedicated to empowering “girls with goals.”
— with files from Neetu Garcha