Locked and Loaded: Despite talk of record, Christine Sinclair focused on ‘important’ Olympic qualifiers

Canada’s Women’s National Team kicks off its Olympic qualifying campaign this week. Here is what their all-time leading goalscorer, Christine Sinclair, had to say ahead of what promises to be an exciting couple of weeks down in Texas. 

Goal scoring records. The pursuit of 5 rings. Revenge for 2019. 

There’s a lot on the mind of Canada’s Women’s National Team players heading into this 2020 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, which gets underway this week. Starting with today’s clash against St.Kitts and Nevis, leading into Saturday’s affair against Mexico and next Tuesday’s matchup with Jamaica, Canada’s focused on grinding out a possible 9 points out of 9, with making the semi-finals an early goal. 

From there, things promise turn up a notch, with a spot in the Olympics on the line, but for now, there are lots of small obstacles to breach in order to start thinking about that. Returning to the Olympics for the 4th time in a row is up there in the thoughts, but to do that, it’ll take 3 consistent performances, starting with St.Kitts and Nevis, before building up from there. 

“It’s nice to know that every game is just going to get that much more difficult,” Canada’s all-time leading goal scorer, and captain, Christine Sinclair said Tuesday. “That much more important, and one thing we pride ourselves (on) is we know to grow and build throughout a tournament, and we’re going to have to do it here.”

To start climbing that metaphorical staircase, it’s going to require goals, which against an unpredictable St.Kitts and Nevis side, presents the chance of coming in bushels. An emerging program, they are starting to build up the talent necessary to pose a threat to the rest of CONCACAF, but are just not quite there yet at an overall level, hence the whispers of a possible blowout. 

In that case, keep an eye on Sinclair, who, if anyone has somehow missed, is only 2 goals away from taking sole possession of 1st in the all-time women’s international goalscoring list, overtaking the current holder, American Abby Wambach, who has 184 goals.

Despite that pretty significant piece of history posing the potential of coming a lot sooner rather than later, Sinclair has kept her eye on the main task, which is just making the Olympics, as for her, the main goal will always be winning football matches.

“They’ve done a pretty good job of keeping it pretty quiet, today’s the most that it’s probably been brought up,” Sinclair said of the chatter surrounding the record. “To be honest, they’re probably looking forward to it more than I am, I know how important this tournament is, and how important the games are, as we move on, and obviously I’d like to get it over with, in a positive way, just because I don’t want it to be a focus point for the team.”

Sinclair is a brush away from marking her name in the history books (Matthew Bradford/Canada Soccer)

Almost ironically enough, for a side that has the 2nd all-time leading goal scorer in its midsts, a lot of the chatter heading into the tournament has actually been about just that, goal-scoring. After a 2019 World Cup where they scored a measly 4 times in 4 games, there is genuine worry about where the goals will come, with Canada’s performances in their 4 post-World Cup friendlies doing little to ease those concerns. 

Sinclair brushed aside that talk Tuesday, saying that the team remains focused as ever, ready to avenge for the rough end to 2019, where they lost 2 of their 3 exhibition matches to close out the calendar year.

“Yeah, I mean obviously with the way that the summer ended for us and some of the results we had in the fall, it wasn’t an easy way to end the year,” Sinclair said. “But just being back in camp for these past couple of weeks has been good, you can feel the excitement, the focus the team has, knowing what may be possible, if we qualify for Tokyo.”

At the same time, there is a lot to unpack from those friendlies. During the World Cup, Canada was stout defensively, only conceding 3 goals in 4 games, slightly offsetting the pain of their goalscoring woes. With the right defensive foundation in place, it left a lot more to be optimistic about, as it seems easier to build a team from the back, rather than from the front.

But in their two immediate post-World Cup friendlies, clashes with Japan and Brazil, they lost by identical 4 to 0 scorelines, continuing their goalscoring blues, while compounding matters with a new wave of defensive struggles. While a major part of it came down to an adjustment of tactics in order to generate more offence, the drop-off in their defending was drastic, and it’s led many people to wonder how Canada will fare in either department in this tournament. 

Sinclair’s well aware of those issues her team has faced, and as the team’s leading sniper, she knows she’ll face a part of the criticism, but heading into this tournament, she does also feel that her side has struck the right offensive and defensive balance. 

“I mean obviously there’s some issues from the World Cup, just in terms of, you hate to say ‘goal-scoring’, it was more just creating big chances,” Sinclair said. “We weren’t doing that. It’s something we’ve addressed in the fall, almost to the point where we forgot how to defend, but I think we’ve got a good balance now.”

So now, with the matches getting underway down in Texas, expect to see Canada focus all of their energy on their first goal, winning their group. They do that, and they get a date with the 2nd place team in the opposing group, with a spot in Tokyo on the line in that potential semi-final. 

After that, their rivals will likely be waiting, the US, who Canada would surely love to beat, even if both teams were already qualified in that case.

But before they can even dream of that, 3 entertaining group stage games, along with 1 pivotal semi-final, loom large. Sinclair’s been through this process many times, heading into her 5th Olympic qualifying procedure, so she’ll know how important to relish the games against all CONCACAF foes, who no matter the talent level, bring a “want a foot, give an inch’ philosophy of play. 

And then, if they take care of business, the fun starts, with a trip to Tokyo on the line, another clash with the Americans on the horizon, without mentioning the possibility of Sinclair breaking the record. 

But all of that starts now with the first game, which for Sinclair, she says: ‘bring it on’. 

“The CONCACAF tournaments are always exciting,” she said. “You get to play against teams that are a little different, play a different style.”

“And maybe at the end, you get the gift of going to the Olympics, and taking on the Americans.”

Up Next: Canada vs St.Kitts and Nevis, Wednesday, January 29th, 2020, 14H30 PST, 17H30 EST (Edinburg, Texas) 

To watch this game, you’ll need to subscribe to onesoccer, which you can do at onesoccer.ca

Cover Photo by: Matthew Bradford/Canada Soccer

Join the Conversation!