It's always difficult to define a legacy for a player in the midst of their career. But in the case of Christine Sinclair, the captain of the Canadian women's national team, that legacy is easy.
She is the greatest women's player to ever come out of Canada. Bar none. No ifs, no maybes, no doubt. And so great are her individual accomplishments - 127 goals in 171 appearances and a Top 5 player in the world for the last decade - some are even beginning to suggest she can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the successes of her male counterparts.
Peter Montopoli, the general secretary for the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), has watched her progress from the freshman who led her NCAA university team in scoring, to an international force that is now hailed by her peers and has been nominated five times for FIFA World Player of the Year honours.
Alongside the DeRosarios and Mitchells?
In Christine, he sees a player whose success is beginning to transcend her sport.
"I believe she has reached the level of a Dwayne DeRosario or a Dale Mitchell on the men's side in terms of notoriety and accomplishment. And I think there is still even room for her to grow," Montopoli told CBCSports.ca this week. "I think what you will see this summer, with some sponsorships coming her way, is that her profile will continue to increase."
Being the recipient of the last seven Canadian female player of the year awards, there is little doubt she has the respect of the national soccer community - but that's a respect that hasn't always been equalled by the larger Canadian sporting community. Montopoli thinks he knows why.
"I do believe she is deserving of a Canadian athlete of the year award and it is coming. It's always difficult on a team sport that plays internationally and sometimes is not on TV to gain that exposure. But when it's there and it's on TV, it's easier for the media to see and believe in what the player is doing," he said. "But, certainly, I do believe that Christine over the last 10 years has earned it."
The Olympic qualifiers, held in Vancouver, are expected to exceed 100,000 ticket sales by the end of the tournament. If it's reached, the CSA will have set a CONCACAF tournament attendance record. It's those kinds of numbers, coupled with strong television draws, which are showing that the game is no longer being played off in the wilderness - but has arrived centre stage.
Prolific and tough
Bob Lenarduzzi, the president of the Vancouver Whitecaps, saw a prime example of that during the last FIFA Women's World Cup.
"I remember travelling at that time, sitting in Canadian airports and seeing it on CBC News Network - and all the news channels - and it was, across the board, pretty much the top story," Lenarduzzi said.
"If you look at Christine and the interest that she generated, just as a result of the broken nose and the willingness to come back on against doctor's orders and continue playing. We'd all like to think that's a Canadian characteristic. We'd all like to think that while we may not have the best talent at the time, that we're always prepared to do whatever we need to do to achieve the best results. That's something people related to in her."
And while Lenarduzzi, as a member of the last Canadian men's team to reach a World Cup, is hesitant to compare her to the DeRosarios and Mitchells of the Canadian soccer world, he does agree she is on a level of her own.
"I've always been reluctant to compare the men and women's game because they are at such different stages in their evolution," he said. "But if I look at Christine and I look at her on the global stage, [she's] a top five female player. I don't think I'm alone in saying that certainly, on the men's side, we are a long way from being able to claim that."
Winning defines legacy, Sinclair says
Sinclair, who, at 28, has been tearing through the competition at the Olympic qualifiers and has scoffed at that suggestion this next World Cup cycle might be her last, isn't ready to put a label on her legacy just yet.
"It's hard to tell. Obviously I'm very proud of what I've accomplished so far. And I'm proud of the steps the national team has taken while I've been apart of it," she said. "But ideally I want this team to get a medal at either a World Cup or Olympics and then I could answer that question very easily and say, 'Yes, I belong in that crowd.' But as of right now, I'm not sure. "
Like most players, she uses winning as the great watermark to gauge her own success by.
"This isn't an individual sport. And you win as a team and you lose as a team. I think, me, personally, as a team we need to win something - some sort of medal before we can solidify ourselves within the history of the sport in Canada."
Canada will face Mexico this Friday, with a berth in the London Olympics on the line. For Sinclair, it represents a step towards solidifying some of that history - for her team and for her legacy.
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