Iconic Canadian striker Christine Sinclair is no stranger to glory on a football pitch, and she added yet another milestone at the weekend.
Sinclair and her Portland Thorns FC team-mates made history by becoming the first champions of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the United States. The 30-year-old ace scored an insurance goal two minutes into second-half stoppage time of the inaugural one-off championship game to secure a 2-0 victory over hosts Western New York Flash.
Portland played the final 33 minutes with ten players after defender Kathryn Williamson picked up a second yellow card. But the Thorns defended staunchly against ferocious attacks from the likes of FIFA Women's World Player of the Year Abby Wambach to protect the 1-0 lead they earned through a Tobin Heath free-kick.
After Sinclair tallied the evening's second strike, the Thorns captain celebrated in front of about three dozen Portland supporters who made the 3,000-mile cross-country trek to the east coast to cheer on their heroes. Sinclair, who has scored 145 international goals in 197 matches (behind only Wambach’s 161 and Mia Hamm’s 158), took the time to talk to FIFA.com about Portland’s historic win and what the league means to this generation of women’s players in North America.
FIFA.com: What are you feeling right now?
Sinclair: The word that just pops into my mind is proud. Proud of the fight our team showed, during in the final and in the semi-finals too. In the semis we were down 2-0, in the final we went down to ten with probably a half an hour left to go in the game. We were just never going to quit.
Down a player for 33 minutes, you've got to do a lot of extra lifting to do in a championship game. Can you talk about that added weight?
It was an all-around battle. That's the reason why we put in all the work we do throughout the course of the season. You don't hope for it, but it’s just in case. We had the legs to carry us through. I'm so proud of our back line and Karina [LeBlanc, goalkeeper]. They just were not going to give up a goal.
You're not the kind of player who's concerned with personal glory, but how sweet was it scoring the insurance goal so late in a final like this?
Obviously it was a huge. It was like a relief. As a goal-scorer, it's always nice to score some goals. To get a clincher like that and being able to celebrate with the fans that came with us, sort of just took the weight off of all our shoulders for the last couple of minutes of the game. It made it a lot less stressful at the end.
How does this new league help North American soccer in Canada, the US and Mexico?
It has helped tremendously. Obviously, I know more of the Canadian side of it. In the past, I don't know how many players would have been playing professionally. This gives 16 of us [Canadians] at least an opportunity to play with, and against, the best players of the world, day in and day out. I think it's only going to help our national team going forward, like when we host the next [FIFA Women’s] World Cup [in 2015]. Hopefully the focus and attention will continue to grow and hopefully this league will thrive.
How has the league helped you stretch your game?
Playing with people like Tobin [Heath] day in and day out is huge. Playing with and against the best players, you're going to get better. With the national team, you can only train so much. But to get solid games in every week and to gain this experience, a final is final. Hopefully I can bring this back to the national team and we can work towards the next World Cup.
Where does this experience rank in your career up to now?
It's huge, especially for Portland. Portland is a soccer-crazy city. It was nice to win this for the fans. Unfortunately, we could not win at home. But our fans and our organisation, they deserve this.
The fan support in Portland this first year was pretty amazing. You averaged over 13,000 fans for each game. That's way more than any other team. Can you talk about this?
It's Portland! I went to school there [University of Portland]. We sold out all of our college games too. The Timbers [Portland’s Major League Soccer team] get tremendous crowds and the supporters continue to back the Thorns too. It makes this year even more special.
What can you do to best this? Another championship?
That's the plan (laughs).
What are you going to be doing personally now?
We've got like a month and a half off. Our national team, we start camp in October. We have a friendly at the end of October and some more friendlies at the end of the year. We'll be in camp in Vancouver for a lot of it.
How much does hosting the Women’s World Cup in 2015 just keep you going?
It's huge. Not many people get to play a World Cup in their own country. I think Canada is going to do a tremendous job. It's an epic event. I want to be at the top of my game come 2015 so I can help Canada get on the podium at the World Cup.