With goals record in past, Christine Sinclair says Canada must be 'brave' to beat U.S.
International scoring leader says fatigue caught up to Canadians in latest loss
Christine Sinclair is tired of talking about her record-setting goal.
In fact, she says it was more relieving than anything to get it over and done with.
WATCH | Sinclair on becoming the all-time leading scorer:
The 36-year-old Canadian star became international soccer's top scorer with her 185th strike in a group-match game against St. Kitts and Nevis at the Olympic qualifying tournament in January.
Sinclair says she had to attend a pre-planned team celebration following the victory.
Canada eventually lost 3-0 in the title game against the U.S., but both countries booked their tickets to the Tokyo Olympics.
WATCH | Sinclair becomes international soccer's top scorer:
The loss, however, was a familiar one for the Canadians, who haven't beat the U.S. since the 2001 Algarve Cup. Sinclair was on that team, but says she doesn't remember much.
"I mean I know I was there. But it was a long long time ago."
Sinclair scored in that game, a 3-0 win, during her second year with the national team.
The two teams have played 60 times in all competitions with the U.S. holding a 50-3-7 record. Canada is 0-29-6 since the 2001 victory but has tied two of the last six meetings.
Reflecting on the latest loss, Sinclair says the team did what it needed to do for 60 minutes — at which point the game was tied at nil — but lost its focus amid fatigue during the final third of the game, when the Americans struck for three goals.
"It's like that balance between being brave and being naïve," says Sinclair. "I think as we fatigue we maybe turn to the naïve part of playing and it cost us."
Bravery would be continuing to play Canada's game through the back despite pressure from the U.S. Naïveté, then, is playing into the Americans' hands. And after 60 minutes of a hard-fought scoreless draw, the latter is much easier to lean on than the former.
"But there's a time to think, alright, 'you need to get the ball out of our end,'" says Sinclair.
WATCH | Canada falls to U.S. in qualifying final:
The U.S. will enter Tokyo as the team to beat coming off its dominant performance at the 2019 World Cup, where it romped through the knockout stage with a total score of 8-3.
But the Olympics are a different animal. The Americans fell to Sweden on penalties in the quarter-finals at the 2016 Games while the Canadians celebrated bronze.
When Canada finds itself in the doldrums, as after its World Cup quarter-final exit (coincidentally also against Sweden), it leans on the experience gained and the hours played together since the surprising fourth-place finish at the 2003 World Cup. Sinclair, naturally, was there for that too.
"I think that's one of the things with our team. We have a distinct play model how we want to play. And we do a lot of work behind the scenes when we're not together so we enjoy coming together," says Sinclair.
WATCH | Canadian athletes congratulate Sinclair on milestone marker:
Now that the team has qualified for Tokyo, it'll spend one more tournament together in France, also joined by the potent Brazil and Holland.
Then, the players will return to their professional teams — Sinclair plays for the Portland Thorns of the NWSL — with some national team camps built in to slowly work toward Tokyo.
The Games begin July 24. Sinclair is a front-runner, if not the favourite, to lead Canada into the opening ceremony as flag-bearer. But she hasn't even considered the possibility.
"Oh god no. I've had the absolute honour of being a flag-bearer at the closing ceremony [in 2012]. Was one of the highlights of my career. … In soccer you plan, like you have goals. We want to win this game. Like that's something you honestly don't plan for or try to achieve. If it happens, if I were to be asked to be [the flag-bearer], it would be one of the greatest honours of my career," says Sinclair.
Still, it's the play on the field — not the hoopla off of it — that Sinclair cares about. And to reach the Olympic podium for a third straight time, it would probably take knocking off the U.S. in the process.
"We've played a lot of years, a lot of games together, obviously with a sprinkling of new players. But we seriously are family — dysfunctional family, but we're a family — that would do anything for each other and it's those bonds that sort of get you through the tough times."