By Anne M. Peterson
The Associated Press
Portland at North Carolina
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
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PORTLAND — Following a year of heartbreak and triumph, Christine Sinclair had some time in the offseason to decompress.
Sinclair’s father died just a little more than three months before she led the Canadian national team to a repeat bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Now it is back to work for the soft-spoken forward, who wants to right last season’s disappointing finish for the Portland Thorns.
“It was probably the longest offseason I’ve had in about six years. Just being able to reflect on the past year, for me it’s been a lot with everything that’s been going on,” she said. “Reaching the podium in Rio was definitely a highlight. Losing in the semifinals here (in Portland) was disappointing. But it’s things like that that motivate you.”
Sinclair scored a goal as the Thorns opened the National Women’s Soccer League season last Saturday with a 2-0 victory over the Orlando Pride.
Sinclair, one of the most prolific scorers of all time, has been with Portland since the league got its start in 2013. As a member of the Canadian national team, she was among the players distributed across the fledgling league.
It was a no-brainer for Sinclair to wind up in Portland, given her history with the Rose City.
A native of British Columbia, Sinclair won a pair of NCAA championships with the Portland Pilots. She set a Division I record with 39 goals in her senior season, and she finished her career with a record 25 playoff goals.
In addition to playing for earlier domestic pro leagues and the NWSL, the 33-year-old Sinclair has been the longtime captain of the Canadian national team. She has scored 167 international goals, second only to Abby Wambach, who finished her U.S. career with 184.
The past three years have been a whirlwind for Sinclair. There was a lot of attention placed on her in the run-up to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which Canada hosted. The Canadians were knocked out in the quarterfinals by England, but the team continued its upward trajectory on the international stage, building on a surprise bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Canada repeated last year in Brazil, beating the hosts 2-1. Sinclair scored on a free kick.
Now Sinclair has turned her attention back to the Thorns. The team went 12-3-5 last season, finishing with the league’s best record but losing in the semifinals of the playoffs at home to the eventual champions, the Western New York Flash. The Flash moved to North Carolina in the offseason.
“Sinc is an important player on the field and a great leader off the field,” Thorns coach Mark Parsons said. “She’s integral to our attack and how we defend from the front. It’s what she brings as a player, the quality she brings.”
Portland sure looks poised for success. In addition to Sinclair, the team includes U.S. national team players Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg, Allie Long, Lindsey Horan and Emily Sonnett, as well as French international Amandine Henry.
With a win over the Pride in the opener, the Thorns visit the North Carolina Courage in a rematch of the championship on Saturday.
“I think the game is growing here in North America, more and more fans are coming to the games,” Sinclair said. “But I also think the league was set up right. They didn’t go too big too early: I think that was the fault of the previous leagues, salaries were pretty high at the get-go and the revenue wasn’t there. I think this league started small and is growing every year.”
Always humble, Sinclair seems uncomfortable talking about her goals as a player. But she is not shy about her aspirations for the Thorns this season.
“I’m not the type of person to set goals. And if I do they’re mine and mine only,” she said. “But I think it’s fair to say this team is going after the championship and the shield this year, and anything less than that will be a disappointment.”