BEAVERTON, Ore. – This summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup may not, like 2015’s, be on home turf for Christine Sinclair, but in some ways, the Portland Thorns FC and Canadian Women's National Team captain may have more optimism about the 2019 finals. Her national team, after all, are on the up.
“We’re going to try and win the thing. Why not?” Sinclair asked Monday, from preseason training with the Thorns. “I think we’re ranked fifth in the world, right now. We’ve had a very successful start to the season.”
Four years ago, Canada was looked at as an almost obligatory World Cup favorite because of their host-nation status. Under head coach John Herdman, that team – which entered the tournament ranked eighth in the world – lost in the quarterfinals.
Last year, though, Herdman moved on to take over the men’s side of Canada’s program, leaving former assistant Kenneth Heiner-Møller in charge. That transition, from Sinclair’s point of view, has been an easy. one.
“We’ve had him for a year, now,” Sinclair said, referring to Heiner-Møller’s Jan. 8, 2018, appointment. “I think in terms of a coaching change, it has been as seamless and as smooth as possible. He was our assistant coach under John, and our entire staff is the exact same. Most times, when you have a coaching change, the entire staff is new. But it stayed the same.
“I really enjoy playing for Kenneth. He’s a great guy. Our team has continued to develop, and that’s the exciting part.”
That development has seen Canada go undefeated thus far in 2019 (2-0-3) after collecting six wins in nine games last year. The program’s only losses came to the top three teams in the world – France (April 9), Germany (June 10), and the United States (Oct. 17) – and were by a combined four goals.
“Every day, (we’re) trying to get prepared for a huge tournament,” Sinclair said, while also providing a forecast for the summer to come. “(It’s) just going to be a great year.”
Part of that great year, though, will have to include Sinclair’s club world, where the runners-up finish the Thorns achieved in 2018 left the then-defending champions short of their goal. A 3-0, home loss to the North Carolina Courage in the season’s final game capped a dominant year for the title-winners, giving Portland something to prove in 2019.
“We need to figure out a way to shut them down,” Sinclair said, when asked about the Courage. “They scored boatloads of goals against us, last year. With the way we play, that’s unacceptable. I’m sure that will be a focus of the staff. [North Carolina] have very powerful, athletic forwards that cause us a lot of problems.”
Another problem for Portland will be mid-year absences, with up to nine players pulled away come May for World Cup preparations. With possible mid-July returns for players whose teams perform well, the Thorns need to find a way to claim points when many of their national team players are gone.
“You can see the work the players put in in the offseason, especially the (ones that) haven’t had national team duties …,” Sinclair said, when asked about the absences. “They’re going to play a vital role for us. You can see that they have started already and are ready to go …
“[The players] we have that won’t be in the World Cup, they’re quality football players; some world class football players that have been in this league for years and know how to perform, day-in and day-out. Obviously, we have a few internationals that, unfortunately, didn’t make the World Cup, but hopefully (they will play) a massive role for our team, when we are gone.”
Players like Ana-Maria Crnogorčević and Dagny Brynjarsdottir fit that description, while established Thorns like Emily Menges, Meghan Klingenberg, Celeste Boureille and Midge Purce will help elsewhere on the field. Come the end of the season, though, players like Sinclair, Lindsey Horan and Tobin Heath will be back, all returning with the same, redemptive goal.
“It’s been a long offseason, especially with the way the season ended last year,” Sinclair explained. “For me, personally, (I’m just) just excited to get back out there with this team, try to make right what went wrong at the end of last year.”