A country cheered when Christine Sinclair led the Canadian women's soccer team to Olympic gold this summer. Now the Canada captain looks to help her club team, the Portland Thorns, to a remarkable fourth trophy this year.
Portland (13-6-4) clinched the National Women's Soccer League Shield — akin to Major League Soccer's Supporters' Shield — with a 1-0 win at the Houston Dash on Sunday that guaranteed the Thorns the best regular-season record.
Earlier this year, Portland won the NWSL Challenge Cup and the International Champions Cup, a four-team tournament also featuring Houston, France's Lyon and Spain's Barcelona. Now the Thorns have their eye on the NWSL championship.
"We set a goal at the start of the season to win everything — every competition that we entered into — and so far it's going well," said Sinclair. "(I'm) very proud of winning the NWSL Shield.
"I think in North American sports, people are so hooked on the championship game. Whereas you go to Europe, you win a league — that's the top thing … As an athlete, this season has been what? Eight months long? This title means so much to myself and so much to my team because it's the true testament over the course of a season who the best team was.
"It's a nice one and it's one in Portland we haven't won in a while (since 2016) so it's nice to get that one back."
After the international break, which sees Sinclair back with Canada for friendlies against New Zealand on Saturday in Ottawa and Tuesday in Montreal, the Thorns will wrap up the regular season Oct. 30 against the North Carolina Courage. Portland's playoff run starts Nov. 14 with a home semifinal.
Portland coach Mark Parsons says the Thorns are on a "special mission." Sinclair is leading the way.
"There's no other leader like Sinc," Parsons said. "She's the best of the best on the pitch, she's best of the best off the pitch. She leads by example by having the highest standards in every moment, in everything that she does."
With 187 international goals, Sinclair is the world's all-time leading goal-scorer. Happy to avoid the limelight off the pitch, the 38-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., is all about the team.
"All of her work is often done behind the scenes, behind the curtains," said Parson.
He noted that Sinclair talked to the team on the pitch at halftime of the win over Houston, something she does only once or twice a year
"That's her. She knows the moment where she needs to share the wisdom that will push everyone," he said. "When I talk about players that I've learned from as a coach and as a person, being around, I think of many, but no one like Sinc who's often there for me. Often times I lean on her for support, I ask her about the right thing that can help the team at the right time
"She's always always set me up to help the team the best way I can. And that's her. She puts everyone else first and as result we have not just the best player, but the best leader on our club and we're proud of it."
It's the final season at the Thorns helm for Parsons, who is leaving to take over the Dutch national women's team. With 82 wins, the 35-year-old Parsons leads all NWSL coaches.
Sinclair credits Parsons for developing the Thorns into a contender year-in, year-out.
"We're going to miss him. We wish him all the best. As a Canadian, I don't wish him too much of that success," she said with a laugh.
"I've no doubt he'll kill it there as well," she added, more seriously.
With Portland missing the Canada captain and other international stars as the NWSL continued to play during the Olympics, Sinclair calls the Shield a "full squad championship."
"Something in Portland we pride ourselves on is the depth of our roster. And this year, probably more than any other year, Mark has used absolutely everyone. Everyone's played a role. Everyone's stepped up. It's been quite the ride this year with the team."
It's also been a painful one, with allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate comments and behaviour rocking the 10-team league.
"I think it's easy for people to point out the struggles in the NWSL," said Sinclair. "But as a woman, these things are happening in every professional league around the world. They're happening in businesses and office buildings. It's just in the NWSL it's come to light and us, as players, refuse to stay silent any more.
"And hopefully we can be an example for women moving forward, no matter what situation they're in, whether they're in a sporting environment or an office. We just refuse to stay silent any more. I'm very proud of the players within the NWSL and the demands being asked. It's an honour to be part of that movement."
Earlier this month, the Thorns placed GM/president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave from his duties with the club pending the results of an independent investigation into his handling of sexual harassment allegations involving former coach Paul Riley.
Sinclair and the Thorn players called for the move.
On the international front, Sinclair is happy to be back with Canada. This week marks the first time the team has been together since its Tokyo triumph.
"It's good to see them. And be playing on the same team, not against them, again" she said.
Fellow Canadian Allysha Chapman cleared a Sinclair shot off the Houston goal-line on the weekend.
"She's annoying like that," said Sinclair, tongue in cheek. "She couldn't let that one just go in. But it's all right"
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press