PORTLAND, Ore. – Thorns FC's Christine Sinclair isn’t one to think about herself, possibly explaining why news of her 100th NWSL regular-season appearance caught her by surprise.
“Oh, really?” she asked, when the impending milestone was brought up in April. “Cool.”
It didn’t take long, though, before she was able to reflect on what the benchmark entails. Not only was is it a symbol of longevity, but it was also one of stability, with all 100 appearances coming with the same club. Not every player has been fortunate enough to enjoy that much time with one club, let alone a club in the city they call home.
That time with Portland Thorns FC also represents distance: distance from the instability of the first league she was a part of; distance from the player she was when she first settled in Portland 17 years ago.
“I’ve been waiting my whole career to play professionally here, in Portland,” she said, couching that patience in the context of a record-setting career at the University of Portland. “Ever since going to college, here, I’ve been in California, I’ve been in New York. This is a dream come true, to play here in front of these fans, back where it all started. It’s pretty special.”
When, in 2009, Sinclair joined the short-lived FC Gold Pride of Womens’ Professional Soccer, she was 26 years old, relocating to a new city, embarking on her first prolonged spell with a professional club. Two years later, she was on the move to Rochester, New York, for a final WPS season before that league folded.
In the NWSL, Sinclair’s been able to enjoy a one-club life, having been one of the first players allocated to the league’s founding clubs. But that time also adds to a legacy in Portland that’s begun to stack up favorably against the city’s other sporting icons; players who, because of the high profile of their leagues, are at the forefront of Rose City sporting lore.
Perhaps nobody is an anchored in that conversation as much as Bill Walton, the iconic Trail Blazer center who, in 1977, helped deliver the city’s first major sporting honor. But Walton only played 209 games in Portland, his time in the northwest cut short by a foot injury that would eventually see him land in San Diego. That 1977 title, along with the Most Valuable Player honor he’d earn the following season, would be the only triumphs he brought to Portland.
Another Trail Blazer, Clyde Drexler, owns a large piece of this conversation, but he wasn’t part of a championship team until he joined the Houston Rockets. Over 12 seasons with the Blazers, “the Glide” produced an unrivaled resume of individual achievement, but across two finals appearances in the early 1990s, his teams came up just short.
Expand the conversation slightly, perhaps considering younger stars (Damian Lillard), legends from just beyond Portland (Steve Prefontaine), or those whose legacies are entrenched in off-the-field achievement (Clive Charles, Jack Ramsey), and the discussion takes on new dimensions. But no matter the angle from you which you approach this conversation, Christine Sinclair has to be involved.
During her four seasons at the University of Portland (2001-2002, 2003-2004), Sinclair posted 110 goals in 94 games. She won two national titles, two M.A.C. Hermann trophies (as the best player in college soccer), three West Coast Conference Player of the Year awards, and was a four-time All American. Her 39 goals in 25 games during the 2005 season is still college soccer’s high mark for goals in a season.
Those collegiate achievements on their own would put her in the conversation for greatest athletes in Portland history, but during her time with the Thorns, that resume has grown. In 2013, she captained the city’s first professional women’s soccer team to the NWSL title, scoring a goal in the championship game where the Thorns defeated one of her former teams, the Western New York Flash, 2-0 on the road. Three years later, she helped lead the team to an NWSL Shield, with a second league title coming a year later.
Walton’s legend is built on producing one title. Drexler came close. Christine Sinclair has won four national or league titles during her time in Portland. Two more conference titles and an NWSL Shield add to that legacy, as do the honors she’s won outside of Portland: Two WPS titles; two Olympic medals.
"To me, Sinc is synonymous with Portland soccer and winning championships in that city,” Megan Rapinoe, a teammate at the University of Portland, said about Sinclair’s place in Portland sports. “Between her days at UP and her time with the Thorns, she has proven to be a legend in Portland and deserves the recognition.”
It’s the type of sports debate that may never have an answer, nor does it need one. Portland doesn’t have to have one player to rule them all, but the athletes that helped define the city’s culture still deserve their place in the discussion. The record-setting crowds the Thorns are able to draw at Providence Park wouldn’t be possible without the foundations Sinclair was contributing to all the way back in 2001, let alone the accomplishments she continues to accumulate with one of the NWSL’s marquee clubs.
Given the resume Sinclair has collected over those 17 years, it’s almost impossible to imagine Portland’s sporting landscape without her contributions. And still at the peak of her powers, it’s equally difficult to imagine what more will be added as she plays beyond this 100-game mark.
That she’ll continue adding to that lore in a place that’s part of her heart, for her, only makes Friday’s century mark more remarkable.
“Portland is home, for me, and has been ever since I went away to college,” she says. “To be able to represent this club and this city for going on six years, now, it’s pretty special. There’s nowhere else I’d want to play.”