You could feel everyone who follows women’s soccer holding their breath going into Canada’s Olympic qualifier against St. Kitts and Nevis. There was a record on the line - perhaps the record. Christine Sinclair was one goal behind Abby Wambach, sitting, perhaps impatiently, at 184. Canada is a repeat Olympic medalist. St. Kitts and Nevis was making its first appearance ever at a qualifier finals. The mismatch couldn’t have been more apparent, particularly in the 11-0 scoreline.
And yet that didn’t take away from the moment, although when Sinclair tied the record on a penalty, you could feel an impending groan running through fans. What if she broke the record on a penalty kick, of all things? There’s always the desire for record-beaters to be highlight reel bangers, a curler from outside the box that dips just under the bar or a laser strike that torches a hole through the netting. But the actual record-breaking goal was fairly simple. An inexperienced St. Kitts and Nevis couldn’t handle Sinclair’s movement in the box. Adriana Leon slipped Sinclair a nice little pass right in front of the goal. Sinclair was one-v-one with the goalkeeper and she put it in the net. Bing bang boom, record broken, just another day for Sinclair.
“It was going through my mind, just don’t miss the net, seriously,” Sinclair said at a press conference after the game. “And it went in. It’s just a relief, to be honest, in the best possible way. Just more important things to focus on now.”
Sinclair repeated that point a few times - this is only the first game of an important tournament for Canada, who are certainly expected to advance but by no means are guaranteed to do so. They’re in a group with Mexico and Jamaica as well, and both those teams could throw a spanner in the works. Her teammates might have doused her with champagne in the locker room, but there won’t be any actual drinking, or a cheat meal of chocolate lava cake, which Sinclair is known to favor for special occasions.
On the night, it seemed like Sinclair’s teammates and coach all had more to express on the matter than her, at least outwardly. Head coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller said in the press conference, “It is history created right in front of your eyes, and something I’m a tiny little part of, and it’s such a privilege. I’m so happy for Sinc.”
“I had tears in my eyes,” said longtime teammate Desiree Scott. “I was warming up and then saw it go in and I ran, sprinted over to the bench. I think Christine doesn’t appreciate what she’s done enough and we’ve been able to see it along the entire way. I’ve been playing with her for ten years. To see it all go down tonight was absolutely incredible. We’re so proud of her. I’m just so grateful to be a part of this with her.”
“She doesn’t want it to be about her. She’s a team player, a hundred percent,” said Sophie Schmidt.
Even St. Kitts and Nevis head coach Jené Baclawski couldn’t deny that the moment had meaning for them as well, 11 goals against notwithstanding. “It’s a moment that me personally and also the players recognize for the historical moment it is for women’s football,” said Baclawski. “I’m proud of her.”
“Obviously I’m a very proud Canadian,” Sinclair said. “When I first joined the national team, I had goals and dreams and aspirations of passing Mia Hamm at one point. I obviously should have aimed higher, not knowing that Abby would have beaten her. But I never could have imagined to reach the totals that I have. Just for all the people back home, especially my friends and family that have supported me through my entire career, just a massive thank you. Can’t wait to call some people back home and share this moment with them.”
The congratulations rolled in from around social media as well, players worldwide sending messages to Sinclair - including the person whose record she had just broken.
Christine: History is made. Your victory is our victory. We celebrate with you.— Abby Wambach (@AbbyWambach) January 29, 2020
And to every girl coming up in the Pack with a dream to achieve that which doesn’t yet even exist: We believe in you. Your Pack is with you. And history awaits you.@sincy12 https://t.co/rNxjjpV7tZ pic.twitter.com/xkUjLtNXHn
Is it telling that so many non-Canadian players sent their well-wishes? Americans in particular, given the history of that sometimes fraught rivalry. Perhaps. For certain, everyone who has played with Sinclair seems to respect her. And now, after knocking in 185 international goals (with a few more yet to come, given she’ll at least play through the 2020 Olympics), everyone who plays after her will respect her too.