Countdown to Breaking a Record Before It Broke Me
November 14, 2022
Howler is proud to celebrate the release of Christine Sinclair’s Playing the Long Game, a memoir (written with Stephen Brunt) of her phenomenal and record-breaking career. Our excerpt is from Chapter 13, on her pursuit of Abby Wambach’s record of 184 international goals—it’s an engaging welcome into a striker’s mind and an intriguing insight into a superstar’s personality.
Heading into the 2019 World Cup in France, I was close to breaking Abby Wambach’s record of 184 career goals.
It’s weird. I like to think of myself as the biggest team player. I will do anything to help my team win. I will play centre back if they ask me. I will play goalkeeper—I don’t care. Yet when I’m put in as a forward my job is to score goals for my team. It’s something I have always found easy. I’m not the type to beat five players and score— that’s Marta. But if you give me a chance, I’m going to put it in the back of a net. That’s me in a nutshell, and that’s what I have made a living doing.
Since I was a kid, coaches have told me that I always seem to be where the ball bounces—whether it’s a pass or a ricochet or the keeper making a save. I don’t know why. I know I am a thinker on the pitch. I try to read things. I try to anticipate things. I spent a lot of time around the game as a kid, watching and learning and trying to understand it. If I had a chance to go to the park, I took a bag of balls with me and practiced my shooting.
Being in front of the goal has never been a place of panic for me. Some players get in front of the goal and it’s like they forget how to play soccer.
For me, it’s clear. It’s simple. The game slows down. I’m comfortable. Scoring has always come naturally.
I honestly have no idea why. I’m sure there are people who have spent more time around the ball than me or taken more shots than me who haven’t scored as many goals. All I know is that I found my calling and picked the right position in the right sport.
I spent a lot of years up front as a striker, but now, in Portland and for Canada, I play farther back, in more of an attacking midfield role. But if I get a chance, I am still going to put it in the net.
I have also been very fortunate to have been relatively healthy for most of what has been a long career. I have had teammates who weren’t so lucky. It broke my heart watching what they had to go through with injuries that shortened their careers.
I have also been lucky to have been on a Canadian national team that has supported me and given me multiple opportunities and chances.
But with all that said, I have to say that the buildup to breaking the record—the countdown, all the attention that came with it—was so painful for me.
After I didn’t break the record during the World Cup in France, the hype continued to grow, and what I had done so naturally for my entire career got harder. I was feeling the burden and the pressure. That’s not ideal for scoring.
I love my teammates to death, but every time I’d score, they’d chant—“Ten more! Ten more!” Then, “Nine more! Nine more!” The media was asking me about it every time I did an interview.
It was a lot.
I was still one goal back of Abby’s total when we began the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in January 2020. Our first match was against Saint Kitts and Nevis, one of the weakest teams in the region. Thank God we played them first.
If something is bothering me or if I am stressed to the limit or emotionally out of balance, I tend to pull my calf. It’s my go-to stress injury. People think I’m crazy when I say that, but when my dad passed away, I pulled my calf. In practice after my mom passed away, I pulled my calf.
The day before our first game against Saint Kitts and Nevis, I pulled my calf.
The medical staff asked me if I wanted to play with the calf pull, just to try to get the record out of the way.
They didn’t have to ask me twice.
Every time the ball went into the eighteen-yard box, my teammates passed it to me. I got the two goals I needed in the first half and let out the biggest sigh of relief. There is enough stress trying to qualify for the Olympics without the added pressure of trying to break a record.
Thank God it was over.
I have so much respect for Abby Wambach as a player. You don’t score that many goals without being a world-class talent. We are very different players. She probably scored a hundred of her goals with her head, and I’ve maybe scored five that way.
I played against her so many times and, for the most part, her team always won. The US have handed me some of my hardest defeats as a soccer player. So I’m not going to lie: to have this one thing over Abby and the other American players of my time feels great. Canada is so used to being the underdog, the kid sister. I’m so proud of the fact that, right now, a Canadian holds the record for career goals scored.
Afterwards, Abby was very nice. She reached out and made a video for me. Mia Hamm congratulated me. So did Christine Lilley and so many of the players I had competed against for so long. Prime Minister Trudeau sent out a tweet.
The biggest thrill of all? Billie Jean King reached out to me.
One of the things I am experiencing more these days is women supporting women (once you take away how competitive we are on the field). Women are trying to grow the game and make it better, cheering and celebrating other players.
Our strong desire to win on the pitch doesn’t always bring out the best in all of us. But at the end of the day, our focus now shifts to how can we build this amazing sport and elevate those in it.
Christine Sinclair has scored more goals in international play than anyone in soccer history (it’s up to 190 now). She has won an Olympic gold medal, four professional league championships and two NCAA titles. She has been honored as Canada’s Player of the Year award 14 times, has scored in five World Cups and is an Officer of the Order of Canada. “Playing the Long Game” is her first book.