Christine Sinclair, Canada vs. Jamaica, 10.5.18
Photo by Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Concacaf's Women's Championship | Thorns FC's Christine Sinclair's pursuit of history at international level proving to be a measured one

If Christine Sinclair was remiss about not adding more goals, you couldn’t tell postgame. And when it comes to individual stats, you rarely can. After the Canada Women’s National Team put up a dozen goals Monday in the team’s, 12-0, Concacaf Women’s Championship group stage match win over Cuba, Sinclair sounded less like a player chasing an all-time mark than somebody with a tinge of regret about how the match played out.

“(I’m) excited for our team. It’s always nice to score a bunch of goals,” Canada’s captain said, in the mixed zone after Monday’s game, “but I have all the respect in the world for Cuba. They never stopped fighting. They were an amazing opponent. My heart breaks for them.”

The game underscored an unfortunate reality about this, the quadrennial competition that qualifies North and Central American as well as Caribbean teams for the Women’s World Cup. The divide between the United States, Canada, and the rest of the confederation remains massive, so much so that, through five games of group play, the region's two Goliaths have outscored their Davids, 30-0, crafting a five-game winning streak that’s expected to reach six when the Canadians face their toughest group opposition, Costa Rica, tonight in Edinburg, Texas (4:30pm PT).

But that disparity has also fostered some interest in terms of the all-time mark Sinclair is chasing. With her Monday goal, the Portland Thorns FC icon is up to 174 international goals, second all-time and 10 behind the record-holder, Abby Wambach. When the U.S. international claimed the goal-scoring mark from another American legend, Mia Hamm, in 2013, the record was 158 goals, and it had been since 2003. Over the last five years, Wambach and Sinclair have pushed their marks into another orbit.

With the likes of Cuba on Canada’s tournament schedule, Concacaf Women’s Qualifying looked like a place Sinclair could make up ground, an assumption Wambach’s goal history would support. Of her last 21 goals, none came against teams women’s soccer fans would consider traditional world powers. Between her 163rd score (Nov. 10, 2013, against Brazil) and her last, the list of countries Wambach tallied was comprised of Russia, North Korea, Switzerland, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti, Costa Rica, Ireland and Nigeria. None of those nations are currently ranked in FIFA’s top 10 in the world.

Through two matches of Concacaf qualifying, though, Sinclair has only added that singular goal. Canada had defeated Jamaica, 2-0, to open their tournament, but both goals were scored by the Houston Dash’s Nichelle Prince. Costa Rica offers another opportunity, as does a likely semifinal against Panama, but any hopes Sinclair could use this tournament to accelerate her pursuit may prove unrequited.

Judging by another of Sinclair’s Monday answers, though, the player with one of the strongest claims to being her sport’s best of all-time is unlikely to be worried. This was the same week she was announced as a finalist for France Football’s Ballon d’Or, and while the potential to claim an honor given annually to the best player in the world drew smiles, Sinclair’s reaction also maintained perspective.

“Obviously (it’s) a huge honor,” she said, “You look at the players on that list,” one that included current Thorn Lindsey Horan, former Thorn Amandine Henry, as well as players with claims to best-on-the-planet honors like Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder and Lieke Martens, “and it’s just an honor to be mentioned alongside of them. It’s an exciting time of women’s footballers, to have an award like this.”

Reactions like that make it difficult to tell how much the goal-scoring record would mean to Sinclair, though just because a player is unwilling to dwell on something doesn’t mean the accomplishment would not be important. Sinclair is a competitor with a keen respect for the game’s history. Just because she isn’t obsessed with a record doesn’t mean she won’t appreciate its significance, if it comes.

Ultimately, so much of what athletes focus on comes down to what’s in their control, and while goal-scoring is something Sinclair can influence, the speed at which she picks up her next 10 goals falls far down the priority list. It’s well behind her next game’s performance, doing well on Concacaf Qualifying, and getting Canada in the best place to compete at next summer’s World Cup.

“I got asked [about the record] in the press conference before the Winnipeg game,” Sinclair told Canadian media, last summer, “and they asked me what my goal total was, and I honestly had no idea. I’ve since been told it was 168. I don’t even know what Abby is at. It’s just not something I pay attention to. I want this team to succeed and there are more important goals than beating Abby Wambach.”

The countdown to history, then, will have to stay a fan’s concern, but within that view, it’s still unclear how long that countdown will persist. Often the focus of a defense's attentions as a striker for Canada, Sinclair has seen her goal-scoring rate slow over the last few years, so much so that the rate of her last 10 goals (21 games) has fallen behind her career rate (a goal every 1.55 games). That could be a function of increased competition, the point we’re at in the women’s international soccer cycle, or the direction Sinclair’s production will take over the next few years. Using both numbers, though, you get a range of 16 to 20 more games it should take for Sinclair to reach Wambach.

That may be why so many were hoping for a Concacaf boost. With no games currently on Canada’s schedule (according to the CSA’s website) for between now and next summer, Sinclair’s chase looks destined to extend well beyond France 2019, or perhaps even the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Not that she seems to care, too much. And if history is any indication, Sinclair and her international teammates are unlikely to get any long, post-World Cup tours that proved so valuable in Wambach’s pursuit. But if that means Sinclair claims the record in games more likely to improve Canada’s program, it may make the record more valuable. After all, for Sinclair, there are more important goals than claiming this mark.

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