Christine Sinclair has witnessed many highs and lows over the last 10 years with the Canadian women’s soccer team, but through it all her reliably excellent play has been the team’s backbone.
That consistency was rewarded Friday when Sinclair was named Canadian women’s soccer player of the year for the 10th straight time, and 11th overall.
Her latest accolade came a day after the 30-year-old forward from Burnaby, B.C., marked her 200th appearance for Canada and scored her 147th career international goal in a 2-0 win over Scotland.
“Internationally I’ve been a part of this team for a while and been through many ups and downs, and three coaches, but it’s clear to see the program is progressing,” Sinclair said Friday on a conference call from Brazil, where Canada is participating in the Torneio Internacional de Futebol Feminino.
“I think both technically and tactically, the support from the federation, everything seems to be going in the right direction building towards 2015,” she added.
The national women’s program is in a good place heading into 2015, when Canada will host the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Canada won its first ever Pan Am Games gold medal in 2011, then made its mark on the nation’s sports landscape with a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
“Very few people get an opportunity to actually play in a World Cup at home, but I think we have a shot at doing very well,” Sinclair said. “Everything we’re doing is building toward that and trying to prove to everyone that what happened in London isn’t a one-off thing and that it’s sustainable. That Canada is a forced to be reckoned within the international scene.”
Sinclair called her international experience this year “interesting.” She missed Canada’s first four international games due to a suspension stemming from an altercation with an official after Canada’s semifinal loss to the U.S. at the London Games.
She also said that Canada is currently in a building phase and developing younger players for the main squad, which has meant results have been muted following an explosive 2012.
But on the club level, Sinclair had a season to remember. She led the Portland Thorns to the NWSL championship with eight goals in 20 matches.
It marked her third straight club title, having won in 2010 with FC Gold Pride and 2011 with the Western New York Flash.
“I have many ties to the Portland area having gone to university there,” she said. “It’s a soccer-crazy city, and being able to reward those fans and that organization with a championship, it just meant so much to me to be able to give that to the city.”
Sinclair added that as big as international women’s soccer is getting, a healthy domestic league will do a lot to help to grow the game.
“For me it’s all about doing everything I can to help the NWSL survive,” she said. “It’s my goal to have this league around for years to come, so that nine- and 10-year-olds now have a place to play when they’re done with university and a place to dream of playing.
“Very few people make national teams, but it doesn’t mean that once you’re done your university or youth club career that your soccer career should be over.”
Sinclair made the 10-player shortlist for the 2013 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award and was honoured on Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Sinclair first won the Canadian award in 2000 and has made it her own since 2004. Six men have won the male half of the award since then.
A lot has happened since her first award, from the highs of playing in the 2002 under-19 World Cup final in front of a big crowd at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, to the lows of finishing in last place at the 2011 World Cup in Germany.
“I remember back to 2002 with the under-19 world championship and there being almost 50,000 fans at the final and thinking ‘All right, women’s soccer has arrived in this country,“’ she said.
“And then we went through a little bit of a lull. As a national team we didn’t perform as well as we would have hoped to, and you didn’t see the huge increases in attendance. But obviously what happened in London has blown everyone’s expectations out of the water.”
Sinclair said the benefits of winning an Olympic medal go right down to soccer’s youth level.
“Just little kids who recognize all of us, because when I was that age I had no idea there was even a national team,” she said. “Now these kids have female athletes as role models and they dream of being the next Erin McLeod (Canada’s goalkeeper), that never happened 15 years ago.”
Midfielder Diana Matheson was runner-up for the Canadian soccer award, followed by McLeod and midfielder Desiree Scott. The award is voted on by Canadian media, coaches and clubs.
Portland Timbers captain Will Johnson was named male player of the year on Thursday. Dylan Carreiro and Kadeisha Buchanan were earlier named under-20 players of the year.
Marco Carducci and Sura Yekka took under-17 honours while Liam Stanley was named Para Player of the Year.
The awards are sponsored by BMO.