Christine Sinclair is still doing it. By the time Canada play their second game at the 2019 World Cup, their captain will be 36 years old, and she will still be the team’s most important player. Sitting just three career goals away from tying Abby Wambach’s international record of 184, the legendary striker playing in what is likely her last World Cup will be a symbol for Canadians to rally around as they try to make a run at the trophy. But as she remains the team’s most potent offensive weapon, Canada’s fate in France could be entirely up to Sinclair, and how many goals she has left in her.
In the Sinclair era, which started nearly 20 years ago in 2000, Canada have evolved from perennial roadkill into jobbers to the stars. From 1995 to 2011, Canada didn’t make it past the group stage in four of their five World Cups, and bottomed out by going winless in ’11. A thrilling, controversial bronze-medal finish at the 2012 Olympics signaled a new Canadian team, one that the best in the world had to take seriously. In 2015, while hosting the World Cup, the Leaf Girls made the quarterfinals, and in 2016, they repeated as Olympic bronze medalists. For the few remaining elders on this team, including Sophie Schmidt and Desiree Scott in midfield, 2019 has a chance to be a new high point for a first-class squad they helped create.
Can they win the whole thing? Probably not. There’s a lot to like about this Canadian squad, including an exciting young generation looking to continue the country’s success. But Canada tend to fall short when faced with the actual best opposition in the world. The 2015 Cup, played in their home country with a younger Sinclair, was a better situation all-around for Canada, and without some favorable knockout opponents, it’s hard to see how they top it. A semifinal run could be within their reach in a best-case scenario, but even their group—with tough foes in New Zealand and the Netherlands—could prove challenging if they’re not prepared.
Goalkeepers: Stephanie Labbé (North Carolina Courage), Kailen Sheridan (Sky Blue), Sabrina D’Angelo (Vittsjö)
Defenders: Allysha Chapman (Houston Dash), Kadeisha Buchanan (Lyon), Shelina Zadorsky (Orlando Pride), Rebecca Quinn (Paris FC), Jayde Riviere (Markham), Ashley Lawrence (Paris Saint-Germain), Shannon Woeller (Eskilstuna United), Lindsay Agnew (Houston Dash), Jenna Hellstrom (KIF Örebro)
Midfielders: Julia Grosso (Texas Longhorns), Desiree Scott (Utah Royals), Sophie Schmidt (Houston Dash), Gabrielle Carle (Florida State Seminoles), Jessie Fleming (UCLA Bruins)
Forwards: Deanne Rose (Florida Gators), Jordyn Huitema (Paris Saint-Germain), Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns), Nichelle Prince (Houston Dash), Janine Beckie (Manchester City), Adriana Leon (West Ham)
Kadeisha Buchanan, a 23-year-old center back playing for Lyon, is more than ready to assert herself as Canada’s best player. The winner of the Young Player Award at the 2015 World Cup, Buchanan anchors a pretty fantastic Canadian defense, led by her mind-blowing combination of strength and speed. She can close the gap between herself and seemingly any attacker before they get into too dangerous an area, and the way she dispossesses her opponents once she gets there is fearless yet clean.
Canada play in a 4-3-3 that relies heavily on Sinclair to get them goals. In three games at the 2019 Algarve Cup, a warm-up tournament for the World Cup, Canada scored only once, and that was thanks to Sinclair. There’s been an influx of younger, skillful attackers to compliment with the more physical veteran presences further back, like 21-year-old midfielder and current UCLA Bruin Jessie Fleming, who plays like a female Kevin de Bruyne:
But outside of set pieces, and especially against good opposition, Sinclair sometimes finds herself isolated up top. If Canada are going to advance, they’re going to have to find a way to score without making her do all the work.
June 10, 3 p.m.: Canada vs. Cameroon at Stade de la Mosson
June 15, 3 p.m.: Canada vs. New Zealand at Stade des Alpes
June 20, 12 p.m.: Netherlands vs. Canada at Stade Auguste-Delaune
All times Eastern