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Sinclair says she will not play in 2024 Paris Olympics, but will remain with Portland Thorns of National Women’s Soccer League next season

After 23 years with the Canadian women’s national soccer team, the world’s most prolific goal scorer, and one of the country’s sporting heroes, is retiring from the international game.

Long-time captain Christine Sinclair said she will conclude her career with the national team this year, and she will not play in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Canada will be without her as it tries to defend the Olympic gold medal earned at the Tokyo Games.

Her farewell games will take place on home soil before the year is out.

Sinclair does, however, plan to keep playing professionally. A forward for the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League since 2013, the Canadian star said she intends to continue in the NWSL next season.

“You see male players do it all the time where they retire internationally and keep playing with their club,” Sinclair told The Globe and Mail.

“I never wanted to play in the Paris Olympics, that was never a dream of mine. After Tokyo, it’s impossible to end higher than that. I’m 40 now, and you can’t play forever. It just seems like the right time for me to stop playing for Canada.”

Christine Sinclair goes head-to-head with Jing Zhu of China in a Women's Gold Cup match at Foxboro Stadium, Massachusetts, in July 2000. John MOTTERN/AP Photo
Sinclair earned both the Golden Boot as leading scorer, and Golden Ball as tournament MVP at the 2002 U-19 Women’s World Cup in Edmonton.

She announced her retirement on Friday in her own words, by penning a poignant letter to her younger self in The Globe, from the 40-year-old woman she is today, to the shy 16-year-old girl who first suited up for Canada’s national women’s team in 2000, and showed off her scoring prowess with three goals in her first international tournament.

Since then, her national career has included 327 caps. She scored 190 international goals, along the way surpassing the record held by U.S. star Abby Wambach.

Sinclair has played in six World Cups and four Olympic Games, at which she earned three medals. At the London Olympics, her three-goal effort in a semi-final against the Americans at Old Trafford provided one of Canada’s great Olympic memories and earned her the right to carry the country’s flag out of those Games. She fought her federation over equitable resources for women.

Sinclair has been selected for Canada’s roster for two friendlies against Brazil: Oct. 28 in Montreal and Oct. 31 in Halifax. But those won’t be the last for the veteran from Burnaby, B.C. She hinted she will get to play her send-off games close to home.

Christine Sinclair, who scored two goals, jumps on top of her teammates after they defeated Jamaica, 4-0, is during their 2006 CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-final game. Kevork Djansezian/AP Photo
Despite having her nose broken by an elbow of a German defender, Sinclair refuses to leave the game and scores Canada's lone goal of the game in the 2011 Women’s World Cup. JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images
Sinclair battles for the ball during first half gold medal women's soccer match agaist Brazil during the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Sinclair scored three goals in Canada's dramatic semi-final loss to the U.S. at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

“I know Canada Soccer is working on announcing more matches very soon and I look forward to having a few more opportunities to say goodbye to Canadians coast-to-coast,” Sinclair said. “The way the schedule is lining up, it’ll be a nice way to end it.”

Canada Soccer confirmed it will announce details next week regarding two more matches for the women’s national team.

The next opportunity for that would be the FIFA international window coming up Nov. 27 to Dec. 5.

This retirement is hardly a surprise. Sinclair said most of her teammates knew she never intended to play in Paris. She has slowly been telling players, some in Toronto last month after the Canadian women booked a spot for Paris by winning a home-and-away Olympic qualifying series with Jamaica before a sold-out crowd at BMO Field. It speaks volumes that they have all kept it quiet.

When she told Bev Priestman “I’m done,” Canada’s coach saw it in her captain’s eyes before she got the words out.

“It seemed like the perfect time to do it, while also not impacting the team’s preparation next year for the Olympics,” Sinclair said. “They’re obviously happy for me. I’ve seen some of my best friends retire over the past couple of years both for Canada and Portland.”

Sinclair says she feels “weirdly okay” about stepping away. The humble player knows she will be emotional in the final games. She squirms at the idea of any added hoopla and attention.

Open this photo in gallery:

Christine Sinclair, centre, appears before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage studying safe sport in Canada, alongside her teammates in Ottawa, March 2023.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

While Sinclair says her body still feels good on the pitch, and she still has that drive to improve and win, she’s noticed something new enter her mind. When it comes time to break from her pro team for international windows, she’s become a little envious of teammates who aren’t going to a national team camp, so they get to take a short vacation – something she hasn’t had in a long time.

“I’d say it’s crept into my mind the past like year or so where I’m like, ‘Oh, that would be nice,’” Sinclair said.

Sinclair said she wants to spend more time with her two nieces, and misses visiting her family’s cabin on the B.C. coast.

“Just the little life things that really I haven’t been able to do, pretty much since I went off to college.”

Asked when she was happiest in her career with Canada, she immediately mentions the full stadiums when Canada hosted the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Then she turns to the nights with teammates on the road, playing cards and the Catan board game, building the strongest friendships of her life.

Christine Sinclair of Canada during the women’s soccer semi-final match of the Tokyo Summer Olympics on Aug. 2, 2021. Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail
Sinclair and her Portland Thorns FC teammates celebrate winning the National Womens Soccer League Championship Match against the Kansas City Current on Oct. 29, 2022 in Washington, DC. Ira L. Black/Getty Images
Canada’s Christine Sinclair congratulates Julia Grosso who scored the winning penalty kick to win the gold in women’s soccer at the Tokyo Olympics on Aug. 6, 2021. Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

She reflects on the dark times as a national-team player, too. When the women moved to Rome under coach Carolina Morace, they felt aimless, lost their team identity and finished dead last the 2011 Women’s World Cup. She also dealt with the passing of her father and her mother during her career and “trying to put your human side away” while on the pitch.

“Tournaments don’t get rescheduled because someone’s going through something difficult,” Sinclair said. “But my best friends are on the team and have helped me get through everything.”

Sinclair said that, eventually, she hopes to coach – not a head-coaching job, though. She’d like to coach forwards for a provincial, national or pro team some day.

She isn’t worried about Team Canada carrying on without her.

“They’re ready. It’s been a long time since this team has been like mine and Sophie’s [Schmidt] and Desi’s [Scott]. We’ve just been along for the ride the past couple of years,” Sinclair said. “I have never seen the team as mine. Part of my job has been to get the next group ready, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that.”

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