It’s one thing when your teammates think you’re the glue that binds Canada’s women’s soccer team, but it’s something else entirely when one of your rivals thinks you’re literally the best in the world.
“I’ve said for a long time that I believe, in my humble opinion, that Christine Sinclair is the best player in the world,” said Hope Solo, the goalkeeper for the U.S. team Canada will play Thursday in a friendly.
“You don’t always get to see how brilliant she is because she doesn’t always have the support players but I think now she’s starting to get the support players she needs to really highlight her own play.”
That means Solo ranks Sinclair above Brazil’s Marta — a five-time FIFA World Player of the Year — and even her own teammate Abby Wambach, who has scored more goals than Sinclair or anyone else in women’s soccer.
“She plays both sides of the ball,” Solo said. “Marta, she gets the ball with her feet, she can score goals. But Christine Sinclair, she reads the game, she passes, she gets assists and she’s dangerous every time she gets the ball. . . I’ve looked up to her and I’ve admired her as a player for a really long time.”
Sinclair’s teammates are still in awe of her talent.
“She’s sort of that pivotal girl for us,” said midfielder Desiree Scott, the Winnipeg native playing for the first time live in front of her parents this week.
“She makes everything tick and she’s the one we rely on.”
Sinclair and Canada will need every bit of talent and skill they can muster to beat the No. 1-ranked Americans. They’ve already lost their first meeting this year and Canada, ranked seventh in the world, hasn’t beat the U.S. since 2001.
The rivalry between the teams has taken on more of an edge since the U.S. beat Canada in the semifinals at the 2012 Olympics, but Sinclair says the real goal remains peaking when the World Cup is held here in 2015.
As for stepping to the spotlight Solo and others would like to shine on her, Sinclair remains reticent as ever.
“It’s not always something I’ve embraced because it’s a team sport and I’ve always said that, you know, you can’t be the best if you haven’t won anything,” she said after practice Tuesday.
“I think finally at the Olympics, as a team we were able to show and as a team I think we’ve started to get the respect we deserve around the world.”
She is an 11-time winner of the Canada Soccer Player of the Year Award and has been on the national team for 14 years. Despite all that experience, at 30, Sinclair also says her game has improved, and like her team she feels that peak is coming at just the right time for a World Cup in Canada.
But defeating the Americans, who have perfected so many aspects of their game, means finding new ways to break free from a defence that did a good job of shutting her down the last time they met.
“It seemed that every time I got the ball I had two people on me. It was a little frustrating. As a player, in terms of developing . . . I need to learn how to cope with that,” she said.
Meanwhile, U.S. forward Wambach wasn’t too thrilled at the idea of playing on artificial turf like the surface in Winnipeg come 2015, when Canada hosts the World Cup.
It will run from June 6 to July 5 and games will be played in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton. Of those, only Moncton’s tiny 10,000-seat stadium has real grass.
“The reality is the World Cup would never be played on turf if it were the men,” Wambach said after practising on Investors Group Field Tuesday and noting that there were pebbles and even nails as workers renovate parts of the press box and other areas in the stadium that only opened last year.
She said she assumes that will be cleaned up, but it isn’t her point.
“I’m going to stand by what I’ve been saying. We deserve to be treated just like the men do.”