Canadian star striker Christine Sinclair will get a chance to make history again Saturday.
Sinclair will lead her Portland Thorns squad against American icon Abby Wambach’s host Western New York Flash in the first National Women’s Soccer League final in Rochester, N.Y.
“At the beginning of the year, this was our goal,” said Sinclair of reaching the championship game. “With it being the first NWSL final, we want to make history and win it.”
The contest will be the first meaningful battle between Sinclair and Wambach since the 2012 London Olympics a little over a year ago. Sinclair recorded a hat-trick against the Americans in the Olympic semi-finals, but was heartbroken after Wambach scored the tying goal on a controversial penalty-kick before the Americans prevailed 4-3 on Alex Morgan’s winning goal in extra time.
The U.S. went on to win gold while the Canadians earned bronze. It was Canada’s first Olympic medal in women’s soccer and the first medal earned by Canadians at the Summer Games in a traditional team sport since 1936 in Berlin.
“Obviously, we’ve played each other so many times over the years,” said Sinclair. “I think this is the first time we’ve played each other in a professional league final, so it should be fun.”
Wambach’s Western New York squad rates as the favourite after finishing first in the eight-team NWSL with a 10-4-8 record. Sinclair’s Portland club finished in a tie with FC Kansas City as both clubs posted identical 11-6-5 marks.
Kansas City took second after recording a better goal differential. But the Thorns earned some revenge in the semi-finals as they overcame a 2-0 deficit and beat Kansas City last weekend.
“We’ve been through some adversity, and we know how to handle it,” said Sinclair.
The NWSL is a joint venture between the Canadian, U.S., and Mexican soccer federations. Organized and administered by the U.S. federation, the league is designed to develop international-caliber talent and give Canadian, American and Mexican national team players a high level of competition leading up to the 2015 Women’s World Cup and next Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
The U.S. federation has subsidized the salaries of 23 players while the Canadian and Mexican governing bodies are each funding 16. The NWSL formed after the Women’s Professional Soccer league folded in January 2012, a day after Canada and the U.S. qualified for the 2010 Olympics through a CONCACAF tournament in Vancouver.
“I think the league has been a huge success,” said Sinclair. “And, I know, for Canada, it’s nice to have more players in the same professional league.”
The NWSL, she added, has given young kids a chance to dream of becoming Canadian national team players. In wake of the collapse of WPS and another fledgling women’s circuit, she hopes the NWSL will be able to “stick around” and “absolutely” hopes to play in it for the next few years.
Sinclair, who starred for the University of Portland during her collegiate career, has also found personal and career satisfaction since returning to play in the Oregon city, “the only place” in the league in which she wanted to work.
“Ever since attending university there, I never left,” she said. “It’s been home for me.”
Now, after the Thorns led the league in attendance with an average crowd of 13,320 per game, she hopes to reward Thorn followers and staff by bringing home a title.
Sinclair, Portland’s captain, scored eight goals goals and added two assists in 20 regular-season games, but she was upstaged by Morgan, who led the Thorns with eight goals and five assists in 18 contests before being sidelined with a minor knee injury late in the season.
Sinclair is one of two Canadians on the Thorns, along with Karina LeBlanc of Maple Ridge, B.C., who will start in goal Saturday. Sinclair has enjoyed being able to play with another member of Canada’s national squad.
“She brings this attitude,” said Sinclair. “It’s an attitude that’s really calm, also business all the time. She’s just a blast to be around every day.”
Notes: Wambach’s scheduled face-off with American teammate Morgan has drawn considerable hype. ... LeBlanc has posted seven shutouts this season. ... The game will be aired on both Fox Sports 2 and Fox Soccer and streamed on digital devices via Fox Soccer 2Go. ... Morgan is recovering from a sprained medial collateral ligament, but is expected to contribute, says a Thorns spokesman. Portland’s Tobin Heath has a sore foot but is also expected to play.