‘There’s no other leader like Sinc’: Christine Sinclair adds NWSL Shield to historic year

(Craig Mitchelldyer / ISI Photos / Getty Images)

Before the Portland Thorns took the field for the second half against the Houston Dash on Sunday, Christine Sinclair did something she doesn’t normally do.

Ahead 1-0 and 45 minutes away from clinching the red and black’s second-ever NWSL Shield, the captain gathered her team into a huddle and talked to them with an intensity not often seen from the quiet, humble leader.

She only does it once or twice a year.

“That’s her,” Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said after the game. “She knows the moment where she needs to share the wisdom.”

The Thorns went on to hold their lead in the second half, secure the win, and claim the 2021 Shield as the NWSL club with the most points in the regular season.

“There’s no other leader like Sinc,” said Parsons. “She’s the best of the best on the pitch; she’s the best of the best off the pitch. She leads by example by having the highest standards in every moment in everything she does.”

The NWSL Shield adds to a memorable year for Sinclair, who also captained the Canadian national team to their first-ever Olympic gold, and the Thorns to both the Challenge Cup and International Champions Cup titles.

Portland hasn’t lost a title since the 2020 Challenge Cup. In last year’s Fall Series, Sinclair scored six goals, including a hat trick against OL Reign, throughout the final three matches to lead the Thorns to first place.

Parsons summed it up in the simplest, most accurate way: “Sinc wins trophies.”

On a personal level, the Burnaby, B.C. native has also been nominated for the 2021 Ballon d’Or. Since the award was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19, it’ll be the first one handed out since her historic 185th goal that made her international soccer’s all-time leading scorer.

She’s also top of her league. There are no official all-time stats for the NWSL, but according to a CBC article, Sinclair had 61 goals at the end of the 2021 Challenge Cup, while Lynn Williams had 59, and with Sinclair’s five regular-season goals and Williams’ seven, the two are tied at 66, making them the active players with the most all-time league goals. (Chelsea’s Sam Kerr still holds the NWSL record, with 88).

It makes sense why Sinclair would prefer a quieter leadership style. Her talent speaks volumes on its own.

“She’s not the type of ‘rah-rah’ leader you would expect captains to be,” said Thorns teammate and goalkeeper Bella Bixby. “She leads by example, and she leads with just a presence that we respond really well to when she’s around.”

“I think she’s someone we all look to in terms of how to manage the game and just locking it down for us.”

But humility is also just naturally who Sinclair is. She’s never been drawn to the media or sponsorships, always turns reporters’ questions about her into answers about the team, and repeatedly says that for her it’s never been about the records, it’s about being a good teammate.

“When I talk about players that I’ve learned from as a coach and as a person, I often think of many, but no one like Sinc,” said Parsons.

“She always puts everyone else first, and as a result we have not just the best player, but the best leader on our club and we’re proud of it.”

All this isn’t to say Sinclair doesn’t have her moments of being human. She’s been caught swearing in frustration at a game or getting upset with teammates. On Sunday, she was subbed out in the 75th minute, fuming and ignoring high fives on her way to the bench after playing through a nasty hit to the ankles from Dash midfielder and Canadian teammate Sophie Schmidt.

Schmidt has been playing with Sinclair the longest of anyone on the current national team. They’ll return to Canada this week, along with the rest of the Canadian squad, to start the Celebration Tour for the Olympic gold, beginning Oct. 23 in Ottawa, Ont.

Sinclair hasn’t made any indications of retiring as the Canadians head into preparations for the 2023 FIFA World Cup. She’ll have just turned 40 by the time the tournament begins.

She certainly doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

On Sunday, Parsons was impressed with her counter pressing and the way she set up the attack.

“She’s looking as good, as effective and as intense even in our fourth game in 10 days,” he said. “In the first half she was counter pressing and setting attacks up. It was just like her first game of the four games in 10 days.”

After one more regular season game on Oct. 30 against the North Carolina Courage, the Thorns will move onto the Nov. 14 semifinals where they have clinched home-field advantage.

Being backed by Sinclair’s leadership provides a sense of composure for Portland as they look to finish strong on a dominant season.

“[She’s] often there for me,” said Parsons. “Oftentimes I lean on her for support, if I ask her about the right thing that can help the team at the right time. She’s always, always set me up to help the team in the best way I can.”

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern at Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.