Hoopla expected to hit new heights as Christine Sinclair's farewell game in Vancouver nears
Canada's Christine Sinclair warms up before a friendly match against Australia at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C., on Friday, December 1, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, December 2, 2023 2:54PM EST
LANGFORD, B.C. - One down and one to go.
Canada's lopsided 5-0 win over an experimental Australia side in the rain Friday at Starlight Stadium and the hoopla surrounding it provided a taste of what is to come in Christine Sinclair's farewell game at B.C. Place Stadium.
Friday's game, the first half of Sinclair's swansong in her B.C. backyard, was just an appetizer. Tuesday's rematch with the Matildas in Vancouver promises to be more emotional, much bigger and more challenging on the field.
Canada coach Bev Priestman has balanced trying to give Sinclair the respect and spotlight she deserves while trying to prepare a team for the February CONCACAF W Gold Cup and next summer's Paris Olympics.
So far so good.
“This sendoff and run of games is probably the perfect sendoff for what's been the perfect player,” said Priestman.
With one game remaining, Priestman wants to ensure Sinclair's “unbelievable special night” doesn't disappoint.
“Now post-game, things will start to set in about what this next game means - for everyone,” Priestman said after Friday's game. “I said to the players at the end we've got to do everything right from the minute this whistle (blew) to actually going to give her the sendoff on the pitch as well as off the pitch that she deserves.”
Sinclair was honoured before Friday's game with her two beloved nieces presenting her with a commemorative jersey. There was also a presentation marking B.C. designating Dec. 12 as “Christine Sinclair Day.”
Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds offered up a congratulatory video earlier in the week. Earlier Friday, some 3,350 kilometres to the east, Toronto Raptors star Scottie Barnes, a native of West Palm Beach, Fla., showed up to work wearing a Sinclair jersey.
Priestman said her players are managing to stay grounded amidst the flood of emotion. In part because they follow their captain's chill vibe.
“They're a very low-key group,” she said. “They literally want to get up, go to the coffee shop, hang out with their friends, work hard.”
But she acknowledged the hoopla is about to hit new heights.
The sellout crowd announced at 6,102 roared when Sinclair, the world's all-time leading scorer with 190 goals, came on in the 63rd minute for her 330th cap with Canada up 5-0.
After the game, fans crowded the fence around the field for a glimpse of the 40-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., treating her like a rock star. Sinclair, otherwise engaged, did not speak to the media.
On the field, the 10th-ranked Canadians had their way with the 11th-ranked Matildas with two goals from Nichelle Prince and singles from Cloe Lacasse, Simi Awujo and Adriana Leon.
“Overall (I'm) celebrating the clean sheet, celebrating five goals but I do think we're going to go â€¦ into a tough test Tuesday,” said Priestman.
Australian coach Tony Gustavsson said prior to the game that he was using it to see new talent in camp.
“We were willing to risk a result,” he said after the match. “Not that we wanted to lose but we were willing to look at players tonight and it cost us.”
It was the first meeting of the two teams since co-host Australia ended Canada's World Cup with a humbling 4-0 win July 31 in Melbourne. That defeat consigned Canada to third place in Group B and a trip home while Australia went on to finish fourth.
Gustavsson's starting 11 Friday featured none of the starters from the World Cup game with Canada although it did feature seven of the subs from the Melbourne meeting. Canada fielded six starters in its starting lineup.
He brought on more experienced players late in the game, with the outcome already decided. The Aussie veterans are expected to start Tuesday in front of more than 40,000 fans expected at B.C. Place Stadium, which is being renamed Christine Sinclair Place for the night.
Sinclair, who plans to play one more season of club football in Portland, will be cheered on by friends and family as well as former teammates and coaches.
Priestman has said Sinclair will start, unlike recent games where she has come off the bench.
“B.C. Place is Sinc's night,” said Priestman.
Veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt, who came on late in Friday's game for her 225th cap, is also bowing out Tuesday.
Asked what she thinks Tuesday will be like, Schmidt smiled.
“Electric. Emotional. Fun,” she said. “I don't know. I think there's some surprises up the sleeve that we don't know about ... It's going to be awesome.”
Goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who retired in January after 119 senior appearances, is also being honoured Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2023