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No fan of the spotlight, Christine Sinclair tries to make the best of retirement attention

Canada's Christine Sinclair, centre, trains with the Canadian women’s soccer team at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C. on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023 ahead of Friday's international friendly against Australia.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson Canada's Christine Sinclair, centre, trains with the Canadian women’s soccer team at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C. on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023 ahead of Friday's international friendly against Australia.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson
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LANGFORD, B.C. -

As the clock counts down on Christine Sinclair's international career, her teammates and coach say their intensely private captain is trying to make the best of being squarely in the spotlight.

“She doesn't love the attention. That's not her personality,” said veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt, a longtime friend and oft roommate on the road. “But she deserves it. She's never got the credit or the spotlight that she's deserved in her career. But I think especially this being at home, in front of home fans and family and friends, she's just enjoying it and making the most of it.”

Sinclair calls time on her international career against Australia in games Friday and Tuesday in Langford and Vancouver, respectively.

Schmidt and goalkeeper Erin McLeod are also being feted Tuesday at B.C. Place Stadium, which is being renamed “Christine Sinclair Place” for the evening.

The 35-year-old Schmidt, who announced in February she was retiring from international football after this summer's World Cup, will pull on her Canadian jersey for the last time in Vancouver. The 40-year-old McLeod, a world-class goalkeeper, will watch from the sidelines after announcing her international retirement in January.

The three players have earned Tuesday's celebration, having made a combined 672 senior appearances for Canada.

For Sinclair, the attention is awkward if appreciated. The 40-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., the world's all-time leading goal-scorer with 190 goals, prefers to do her talking on the pitch.

Canada Soccer says Sinclair will speak at a news conference Sunday, along with Schmidt. The skipper was not made available Thursday in the lead-up to the Langford game at Starlight Stadium.

But her impending retirement was the main topic of conversation. And Sinclair's teammates are dealing with what life will be like without their leader.

Canada coach Bev Priestman, who told her players at the start of camp they had to embrace the emotion of the moment, says there has been a “lightness” around Sinclair.

“She's had that freeness about her,” said Priestman. “I feel like she's taking in every moment … But (the emotion) it's real, it's there and it's going to become more real as this camp goes on probably.”

Sinclair, who has started 312 of her 329 senior appearances for Canada, came off the bench in October friendlies against Brazil. But she will start in her farewell match Tuesday before a crowd of 41,000-plus including former teammates, friends and family at the Vancouver game.

“B.C. Place is Sinc's night … Obviously that's the night in which you would expect to see, one last time, the captain leading out this team,” said Priestman.

Forward Janine Beckie, in camp while rehabbing a knee injury says the team is feeling “a mixture of happiness and sadness” for Sinclair “because we all know she's ready and she's ready for this moment to come and she's prepared herself.”

Unlike others, Beckie will get one more season with Sinclair with the NWSL Portland Thorns.

Forward Nichelle Prince says the team, knowing its captain, has been careful about showering Sinclair with extra attention in the lead-up to the B.C. games.

“We're just trying to focus on the game. But we all know that this is more for Sinc than anything else,” she said.

But she says that hasn't stopped more than a few jokes made at the skipper's expense, mostly around her longevity.

Jayde Riviere calls the moment “bittersweet.”

“I think our team has come to the conclusion that none of us are ready to see her go. But we're enjoying the last couple of days that we have with her,” said the 22-year-old Manchester United defender. “She's a legend. She's the GOAT, as everyone says. And to us, she's Sincy. She's a lot more than what you see on the pitch. She's a role model for us off the pitch, so it's going to be really hard to see her go.”

Simi Awujo, a 20-year-old midfielder with the USC Trojans with seven caps for Canada, is also still trying to wrap her head around a Canada team without Sinclair.

“I can't imagine it because she's such a big presence on the field. And off the field as well. I just feel lucky to have played with her. And to get to call her my teammate.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2023

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