Soccer icon Christine Sinclair, in her own words
Christine Sinclair is on the short list of Canadian sports icons. And, she's on the short list of most accomplished Portland athletes.
But, for all of her accomplishments in soccer, for all the accolades she has earned in her home country and in her adopted hometown, Sinclair is no headline maker. Notoriously private, Sinclair stepped out of her comfort zone, to a point, to share her journey in soccer in a new memoir. Titled "Playing the Long Game," it was written with Stephen Brunt, a prominent Canadian journalist who has been along for much of Sinclair's impressive ride.
Released on Nov. 1 by Random House Canada, the book is dedicated to Sinclair's mother, Sandra, who died in early 2022 as this book was being finished.
In a recent interview with the Portland Tribune, Sinclair explained how her mother's struggles with multiple sclerosis were tough to watch but an inspiration.
"My mom was an athlete. She coached my soccer teams. So that was painful and hard to see that taken away from her. But, man, she fought and faced it so bravely. And it taught me a lot of perspective in life," Sinclair said. "That I play a game for a living and that my bad days are, in reality, not bad days at all. I think that's helped me with my career."
Except for writing about how her mother, her late father Bill, older brother Michael and her extended family have impacted her life, the book sticks to her soccer journey from South Burnaby, British Columbia, to becoming the most accomplished goal-scorer (female or male) in international soccer with 190 goals (so far) for Canada.
The writing process took about a year and involved Sinclair, 38, talking to Brunt, initially on the phone and eventually in person. She credits Brunt with asking the questions that brought out the stories she shares.
"He just asked provoking questions and tried to stir up memories," Sinclair said, "and I just talked and he recorded it."
Not that the process was easy for a self-described introvert who hates talking about herself.
"There were some days where it was easy and painless and time flew, and then there were other days where, seriously, it was like pulling teeth trying to get me to talk," she said about the process. "Because some days you're just not in the mood to talk about finishing last at a World Cup."
Sinclair's motivation for writing the book, at least in part, was to push Canadian soccer forward. She argues that without its own professional league for women, remaining competitive on the world stage will be difficult for Canada.
When it comes to her life outside of soccer, Sinclair remains guarded. About her 2012 decision to turn down a contract with Paris Saint-Germain to play for the upstart Portland Thorns in the new NWSL, Sinclair writes that she didn't want to be stuck in Paris if there was a professional team in Portland.
"Portland is a place where I can drop out of the spotlight if I want to — a safe haven where I can just live my life," Sinclair writes.
Much of the book focuses on Sinclair's experience representing her country in five FIFA Women's World Cup tournaments and two Olympic tournaments.
As Portland soccer fans already know, it's an eventful journey.
The book begins and ends with the 2020 Olympic Games, played in the summer of 2021 in Japan. Sinclair and her Canadian teammates won the gold medal — to Sinclair the pinnacle of a career that included two NCAA championships at the University of Portland, the 190 (and counting) international goals, and on Oct. 29, a third NWSL championship with the Thorns.
Brunt, Sinclair noted, has covered Canada's national team for about as long as she's played on it, which made working with him comfortable.
"He's been following the national team and my career almost from Day One. So it helps to have him working alongside me to ask questions," Sinclair said. "'Hey, you remember this in this tournament or this game?' And I'm very fortunate that I have a pretty good memory when it comes to soccer stuff."
Many of those moments involve matches against the United States Women's National Team. While Sinclair writes about her respect for the USA team — she is, of course, friends with some of them — the underdog's intensity comes through in her words.
One vivid example is the way Sinclair remembers the semifinal match at the 2012 London Olympics. She scored three goals that day, but writes that she'll never rewatch that match. The United States — aided by a referee's peculiar decision — rallied to win 4-3 on an Alex Morgan goal in the final minute of extra time. Here's what Sinclair wrote about the conclusion of that match:
"When I heard the referee's whistles to end the game, I crumpled to the ground. I was exhausted. I was so sad, and so angry. We had lost a chance to play for a gold medal.
"I have never been as angry as I felt in that moment. I was heartbroken. You'd almost rather get played off the park. That would hurt, but at least you'd know that you didn't deserve to win. Whereas that semifinal in London? I really think we should have won."
Readers will learn why Sinclair wears jersey No. 12 (hint, it's not a soccer idol), what it was like to play for the Canadian Women's National Team as a teenager, and why she chose to attend the University of Portland (instead of Nebraska or powerful North Carolina) — a decision that soon led Sinclair to call this city home.
She writes about how the late beloved Pilots' coach Clive Charles impacted her life. There's also a hint at what life after soccer (whenever she steps away) might hold for her.
Sinclair said she is proud, and at least a little scared, to have the book out in the world.
"It looks cool. I'm just in disbelief of it. Scares me a little bit. But, I think it's incredible and, yeah, very proud of it," she said.
Ultimately, if her words bring a professional women's soccer league closer to reality in Canada, or if the book sparks some readers' interest in multiple sclerosis research, the project will be a success to Christine Sinclair.
"I've learned that sports gives an athlete like me a unique voice," Sinclair told the Tribune. "For some reason, people listen. I don't know why, because there are much smarter and much more powerful individuals out there than me, making real differences in the world."
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