Back in 2000, when a teenaged Christine Sinclair was making her debut with the Canadian women’s soccer team, American superstar Mia Hamm was racking up goals at a record-breaking pace and putting the sport on the map.
Fifteen years and 157 goals later, Sinclair is on the cusp of passing her idol on the all-time goal scoring list, while support for women’s soccer in Canada is at an all-time high.
Sinclair’s brace in Canada’s 3-0 win over Mexico on Wednesday at the International Tournament of Natal moved her within one goal of Hamm’s mark of 158, which stood as the record for career international goals in all of soccer until American Abby Wambach eclipsed it in 2013.
Reflecting on her career, Sinclair said the 16-year-old version of herself would not have envisioned a career that in many ways has mirrored Hamm’s.
“When I started my career with the national team Mia Hamm was the name of women’s soccer,” Sinclair said Friday from Natal, Brazil. “She was definitely an idol of mine growing up, and when I started with the national team I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d reach the amount of goals that she did in her career.
“It’s surreal that it’s gotten to this point.”
As Sinclair’s career has blossomed, so has women’s soccer in Canada. Sinclair’s valiant hat trick in Canada’s heartbreaking 4-3 semifinal loss to the United States at the 2012 London Olympics generated huge support for the women’s team back home. That was galvanized by Canada’s 1-0 win over France in the bronze-medal match, giving the country its first team sport medal at a Summer Games since the men’s basketball team won silver in 1936.
Women’s soccer in Canada has only grown from there.
The team played in front of a packed house at Toronto’s BMO Field in a rematch with the rival Americans in 2013, and Canada played host to the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in 2014 and the World Cup this year. Canada drew a tournament-high 54,027 fans to Vancouver’s BC Place for its World Cup quarter-final with England.
The EA Sports “FIFA 2016” game included women players for the first time, with Sinclair sharing the cover with Barcelona star Lionel Messi on the Canadian edition.
“I think my career has gone on the same journey as the national team,” Sinclair said. “When I first started we didn’t play many games, people didn’t really care too much about how we did and now times have changed.
“We have probably the best coach in the world and the country has fallen in love with us and we play so many games.”
The coach is John Herdman, who Sinclair said contributed significantly to the national team’s rise.
“When (Herdman) came on board he had a devastated, broken team that just finished dead last in the World Cup and he came in with new passion and vision and we all bought in,” Sinclair said. “I do credit him with turning around this program and turning around our team and turning around a lot of our players’ careers.
“He has our backs 100 per cent of the time, just as we have his.”
Sinclair will get a chance to equal or move ahead of Hamm this Sunday, when Canada plays Trinidad and Tobago at the Natal tournament. American Abby Wambach owns top spot on the all-time list with 184 career goals.
More important to Sinclair is that Canada’s up-and-coming players get international experience before the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in February. This tournament in Brazil will be Canada’s only fixtures between the World Cup and the qualifier.
Sinclair said she is excited by Canada’s new crop of players, led by star 20-year-old defender Kadeisha Buchanan and including forward Nichelle Prince, who scored her second senior international goal in the win over Mexico.
“Seeing Nichelle score (on Wednesday), she’s one of the ones with the brightest futures on this team,” Sinclair said. “It’s exciting to see these young ones come in and make a difference.”