Thorns FC forward Christine Sinclair was already a known goal-scoring machine in women’s soccer by the time she reached the Rose City as a freshman at the University of Portland. Her career with the Canada Women’s National Team began at age 16, when the native of Burnaby, British Columbia, was still in high school. Youth wasn’t an issue as Sinclair racked up a mesmerizing 20 goals in 24 appearances before her 18th birthday.
Before stepping foot on campus, she had experienced playing at the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup and two editions of the Algarve Cup in Portugal.
“It gave me confidence,” Sinclair said of her early days with Canada. “Most times as a freshman coming into a soccer powerhouse, you can be overwhelmed. I had played with and against some of the best players in the world so it didn’t really overwhelm me. Coming into that program, (head coach) Clive (Charles) saw me as a young player, but a leader on the team. He expected a lot from me even as a freshman. I had experienced it before, being young and being in the national team traveling the world. It was such a smooth transition for me and the fact that it was a small school really helped me. I think I would’ve gotten lost in some of those bigger schools.”
When Sinclair was looking around at colleges, there was already an inclination to head down to Portland because her uncle, former NASL Timbers player Brian Gant lived in town. Sinclair’s other uncle Bruce, Brian’s brother, also suited up for the NASL Timbers. However, there was more to the decision than the comforts of family.
“The No. 1 reason was Clive,” said Sinclair, who holds the Pilots’ career records in points (252) and goals (110) and is a two-time Hermann Trophy winner (2004-05). “Being recruited by many schools, he was the only coach that seemed to care about you as a person first and an athlete, second or third. My parents used to rent a house from him up in Burnaby well before I was even born. It’s just a small world. I have known Clive for my whole life, not very well at first, but when he came up to recruit me, he wanted to go hang out with my grandparents. It’s just weird how it all happened.”
In 2002, Sinclair registered 26 goals and eight assists, scoring both goals to lead the Pilots to a 2-1, double-overtime win against Santa Clara in the National Championship game, Charles’ last game as a head coach. It’s a moment that quickly comes to mind when she thinks of Portland.
“The first thing that crosses my mind always is winning Clive that National Championship. It being the last game he ever coached and just seeing him hugging the trophy after they presented it to our team,” Sinclair said. Charles had been diagnosed with prostate cancer earlier and passed away in Aug. 2003, less than a year after the championship. “It was everything he had done for the sport, everything he had done for the school and the numerous players that played before me. They had always come so close yet never won that championship. We knew he was sick and it was sort of a team motto to do it for Clive. I really don’t think there was going to be much stopping us that year.”
Fast forward to the present and Sinclair is perched in third place on the all-time international goal-scoring list for women’s soccer with 143 goals in 190 appearances, close behind U.S. Women’s National Team strikers Abby Wambach (152) and Mia Hamm (158) for the lead.
“Christine is obviously a great goal scorer, but she is also a tremendous passer, a great defender, very good in the air and an outstanding leader,” Thorns FC head coach Cindy Parlow Cone said. “She is the complete soccer player.”
A champion at the college level, the professional level with FC Gold Pride and the Western New York Flash in WPS, a CONCACAF champion and recently an Olympic bronze medalist at the London 2012 Olympics – the 29-year-old doesn’t suffer from complacency, and is looking forward to committing to Thorns FC in the National Women’s Soccer League and helping Canada emerge as a women’s soccer power.
“I think it’s many things (that continue to drive me),” Sinclair said. “For my national team, a group of us have a goal of changing the sport within Canada. For so long we had been the team with potential and to finally have won an Olympic medal, it makes you want more. We don’t want it to be a one-time thing. We want Canada to be considered a world power for years to come.
“On the club level, it’s to help a league stay. Being part of the WPS, I was part of FC Gold Pride where we won a championship and folded. Then I went to Rochester (Western New York), won a championship and the league folded. I want to be part of something that is around for years to come and where young girls – whether it’s in the U.S. or Canada or Mexico, all over – can dream of playing professionally.”
She’s also looking forward to returning to the Rose City, a city that has become very dear to her heart since first stepping foot on Merlo Field in 2001.
“I consider it home,” Sinclair said. “It’s a city that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. I love the vibe of it. I’m native to the Pacific Northwest, so it’s home. It’s close enough for my family to come down and visit. It’s a soccer crazy city and as a soccer player you can’t ask for anything more.”