Christine Sinclair celebratesAP Photo/Andy Jacobsohn
AP Photo/Andy Jacobsohn

The career highlights of goal-scoring GOAT Christine Sinclair

The end of Christine Sinclair‘s incomparable career is in sight. Before she goes, let’s look back at some highlights from her tenure with Team Canada.

Sinclair, who turned 40 in June 2023, has played for the national team for over half her life. In that time, she has become soccer’s all-time leader in international goals while inspiring generations of players in Canada and globally.

Goal No. 1: March 14, 2000

No one watching Canada vs. Norway at the 2000 Algarve Cup could have known the history they’d witness that day. A lanky 16-year-old, in just her second game for Canada, scored the opening goal in the eighth minute.

Canada lost 2-1 on the day, and finished fifth in the competition. Whatever visual evidence of the goal may have existed has seemingly been lost to the ages. But it was, as we’d all come to learn, the start of something great.

Christine Sinclair gets slide tackled by an opponent in 2002.
South Korea’s Young Sil Yoo (5) struggles for control of the ball with Canada’s Christine Sinclair (10) during their Women’s World Cup exhibition game in Portland, Ore., Friday, May 5, 2000.(AP Photo/John Gress)

Hello world, it’s me, Christine

By 2002, Sinclair was already a regular with the senior national team. But it was at a youth tournament that she propelled herself onto the global stage.

The 2002 FIFA Under-19 Women’s World Championship was hosted in Canada, giving Sinclair the chance to shine on home turf. Sinclair was the tournament’s top scorer with 11 goals in six games, including five in one game against England.

Canada met the United States in the final in front of nearly 50,000 fans at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium. Though the hosts came up just short, Sinclair’s leadership was a harbinger of things to come.

Christine Sinclair holding the Golden Boot trophy at the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women's World Cup
Canada’s Christine Sinclair hoists the Golden Boot award for top scorer at the end of the FIFA U19 Womens World Championship final in Edmonton, Sunday September 1, 2002. (CP PHOTO/Adrian Wyld)

Welcome to the World Cup

The following year, she appeared in the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time. It took just four minutes for the 19-year-old to make an impact, scoring Canada’s first goal in their opening match against Germany.

That was only the beginning. She’d score twice more in the tournament as Canada barrelled its way to fourth place, its best-ever finish at a senior World Cup. It was also the first of five consecutive World Cups in which Sinclair scored, something only two other players have ever done.

Canada’s Christine Sinclair (12) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Germany in the first half of the FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament, Saturday, Sept. 20, 2003 in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Taking the Olympic stage

Women’s soccer made its Olympic debut at Atlanta 1996, but Canada’s first appearance came at Beijing 2008. Sinclair, by then a veteran at age 25, served as captain.

Canada made it to the quarterfinals; their « reward » was a match against the top-ranked Team USA. There wasn’t much reason to believe Canada, the Olympic debutantes, could hang with the powerful Americans.

But powered by an absolute belter of a goal by Sinclair in the 30th minute, Canada pushed the game to extra time tied 1-1. While the USA would prevail in that game, and win the gold medal, Sinclair helped establish that Canada could indeed hang with the Americans in big games.

This, as you might just recall, would come into play again four years later. But first…

A real nose for the net

The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup was a lowlight for the Canadian team, who finished in last place. But the opening match against Germany did give Sinclair the chance to showcase the otherworldly grit that made her the team’s heart and soul.

Early in the second half, an errant elbow from an opponent broke her nose. « It just went crunch, » she told reporters at the time, in typical understated fashion. But she stayed in the match, and would go on to score one of the finest goals of her career in the late going.

That would prove to be Canada’s only goal of the tournament. While that World Cup was one to forget, it did provide the indelible image of Sinclair leading the team from behind a protective mask that appeared to be pure titanium.

Christine Sinclair, wearing a protective mask, talks to teammates
Canada’s Christine Sinclair, right, wears a protecting mask after breaking her nose as he prepares for the match with her teammate Sophie Schmidt, left, prior to the group A match between Canada and France at the Women’s Soccer World Cup in Bochum, Germany, Thursday, June 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

The greatest game ever

What, really, could be said about the Canada vs USA semifinal from London 2012*?

Put aside the controversy and the heartbreak of the game’s latter stages, if you can. This game was Sinclair’s masterpiece, the defining performance of a 29-year-old at the peak of her powers, attempting to single-handedly slay the sport’s juggernaut and lift her nation to dizzying new heights.

We know how it ended, we know of the redemption offered by the bronze medal. But this match was the career highlight that spawned so many others for Sinclair, from her designation as Olympic Closing Ceremony flag bearer to her spot on Canada’s Walk of Fame.

*And if somehow you’re unaware: Sinclair scored three times in a pulse-pounding back-and-forth game, but Canada lost 4-3 in the very final moments of extra time. The less said about the exact details, the better.

No place like home

Thirteen years after that U19 final, Sinclair was back in a big tournament at a packed Commonwealth Stadium. This time it was the opener of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, hosted across six Canadian cities.

With high expectations coming in, Canada seemed destined for a scoreless draw in the opening match against China. But when the team was awarded a late penalty kick, who else — who else? — was it going to be but Sinclair stepping up.

Her cool-as-a-cucumber finish sent the fans in Edmonton and across the country into rapture. And like her Olympic performance three years earlier, it gave Canadians a tantalizing glimpse of the possible.

Back on the podium

Sinclair turned 33 just before things kicked off at Rio 2016. And while that’s a sprightly age for us mere mortals, it’s around the time that the question is asked of elite athletes: « Okay, how much do they have left in the tank? »

Fortunately for Canada, Sinclair had plenty left. She was among the tournament’s top goal scorers, including the winner in the bronze-medal game against Brazil.

Also fortunately for Canada, this is the tournament where a new generation solidified themselves as the team’s core moving forward. But the question was suddenly becoming more pointed: could Canada reach the top of the mountain before Sinclair’s days were done?

(Obviously you know the answer to this question, but for narrative effect, please pretend that you don’t.)

Goal No. 185: January 19, 2020

What’s gone unsaid thus far, but bears mentioning, is that Sinclair was doing plenty in her career between these selected highlights.

She’s won five championships at the club level. She’s adjusted her role and playing style to suit the national team’s needs. And she’s been a tireless advocate for pay equity and the importance of a women’s professional league in Canada.

Oh, and she scored goals. Lots and lots of goals. Over 250 for her club teams. And for Canada, she became the highest-scoring player in international soccer history on January 19, 2020, with her 185th goal.

But amidst the individual accolades, the question remained: could the 36-year-old win a major competition with Canada? (Again, please pretend you don’t know.)

The top of the podium, at long last

Most players don’t get storybook endings. But Christine Sinclair, as we’ve established, isn’t most players.

At Tokyo 2020, which would be Sinclair’s final Olympic Games, a hungry Canadian team stepped up in key moments, the way their captain had so many times before.

READ: Golden generation lifts Sinclair to the Olympic pinnacle

« I’m overwhelmed with pride for this team,” Sinclair said after Canada’s gold-medal triumph. “It’s been quite a journey … and it’s an honour to be part of this group. »

Quite a journey indeed, captain.

Canada’s Christine Sinclair, right, walks onto the pitch prior to their Celebration Tour soccer game against New Zealand in Montreal, Tuesday, October 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes