EDINBURG, TEXAS – For the Canadian women’s team, it’s all about qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo this summer, of course. But as she has for so many years, and whether she likes it or not, Christine Sinclair casts a very large shadow over this Canadian side that is set to compete at the Concacaf Olympic qualifiers. Canada opens group-stage play at this Concacaf competition on Wednesday against lowly Saint Kitts and Nevis. The Reds will be looking to storm out of the gate and begin their qualifying campaign on a winning note after suffering a hangover from last summer’s disappointing showing at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. If securing an Olympic berth and getting a chance to reach the medal podium for a third consecutive time is the top priority for Canada, then helping Sinclair enter the record books as the all-time goals leader in international soccer ranks a close second. Canada’s iconic captain currently sits on 183 international goals, an amazing total she’s tallied in 289 appearances since making her national team debut as a teenager in 2000. RELATED READING: Carmelina Moscato on CanWNT: Fleming needs to take next step for Canada Sinclair, a 36-year-old native of Burnaby, B.C., is poised to leapfrog retired U.S. star Abby Wambach (184 goals) as the all-time leading scorer in international soccer, for both women and men. If all goes to plan, Sinclair should break Wambach’s mark sometime during the group stage, maybe as soon as Wednesday against Saint Kitts and Nevis. It’s the last thing Sinclair wants to talk about, though. A serious athlete who lets little if anything distract her from her duties on the pitch, the Canadian captain explained that her teammates have done a pretty good job of keeping mum about the record during the team’s extended training camp, which began earlier this month in Austin, Texas. “Today was the most that it’s probably been built up. To be honest with you, they’re probably looking forward to it more than I am,” Sinclair said after Canada’s training session on Tuesday. “I know how important this tournament is and how important the games are as we move on. Obviously, I’d like to get it over with – in a positive way – just because I don’t want it to be a focus for the team in the coming weeks.” Coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller noted that while it’s Sinclair goal-scoring exploits that tend to garner the attention, it’s the Canadian forward’s work ethic that stands out the most for him. “She’s a world-class footballer, but her character is unbelievable. You see players or athletes occasionally at her level in the international game or in different sports who don’t put the work in, and they can’t lead. They can be a great player, but they can’t lead, and (Sinclair) is doing exactly that,” Heiner-Møller offered. “It’s not just luck that she’s about to break the record; it’s also a lot of hard work.” Defender Ashley Lawrence, who was voted Canadian player of the year for 2019, admitted that watching Sinclair and Canada win a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics sparked a fire in her to play for her country. “She does such a great job at inspiring others by leading by example. … I’m so grateful to be in an environment to have that impact that she has on me,” Lawrence said of Sinclair Saint Kitts coach Jene Baclawski, a 32-year-old American who took over the team last September, is well aware of the fact Sinclair is chasing history. "It’s an honour to be on the field with her, and it’s an honour to see her at this point in her career having the opportunity to break records like this. … We certainly hope she breaks the record, but maybe not against Saint Kitts and Nevis," Baclawski quipped. She later added: "If she does break it, it’s a shame she’s not doing it on home soil. I hope that there’s some recognition there for her, after this competition ends, back in Canada. She deserves it." Sinclair’s 182nd goal came against the Netherlands in the group stage of last summer’s World Cup in France. It was a record-tying strike, as the Canadian became only the second player (Brazil’s Marta was the other) to score in five Women’s World Cups. Goal No.183 came last November in a 3-0 win over New Zealand. In total, she bagged six goals in 15 games for Canada in 2019. Canada hasn’t played a game since beating the Kiwis and only has one win in its last five outings, so it’ll be interesting to see if it can find its groove at this tournament, and reassert itself as the second-best team in the Concacaf region. “With the way the (World Cup) ended for us, and then some of the results we had in the Fall, it wasn’t an easy way to end the year. Just being back in camp for these last few weeks, we can feel the excitement and the focus the team has, knowing what may be possible if we qualify for Tokyo,” Sinclair said. RELATED READING: CanWNT’s bid to qualify for Tokyo Olympics: What you need to know
Finishing 1st important for Canada

Ranked eighth in the world, Canada will compete in Group B, alongside No. 127 Saint Kitts and Nevis, No. 51 Jamaica and No. 26 Mexico. Group A consists of two-time reigning World Cup champions United States (ranked No. 1 in the world), Costa Rica (37), Panama (53) and Haiti (68). The top two nations from each group advance to the semifinals of this Concacaf tournament. Only the two finalists qualify for this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo. What that means, ultimately, is there is little margin of error allowed, and a loss by Canada in the group stage could put its hopes of advancing to the semifinals in jeopardy. A loss could also hurt Canada’s chances of winning Group B, and finishing second in the group would likely mean facing the top-ranked Americans in a do-or-die semifinal with an Olympic berth at stake. Canada should win its group, though. Saint Kitts and Nevis is currently ranked 127th in the world and is making its debut in this tournament. Canada has won all seven of its previous meetings vs. Jamaica by a combined score of 48-1, and it sports an all-time record of 21-2-1 against Mexico, with its lone loss coming in 2004. Baclawski is well aware of the enormous gap in class between the two teams, and how her squad faces long odds against Canada. She called Wednesday’s contest the biggest in the history of the Saint Kitts women’s side. "We talked about that with the team. They’re aware that it’s going be a challenge … (but) I have confidence in the work that we’ve put in coming into camp, and I have confidence in them. We’re here and we earned the right to be here, and they need to respect that, and they need to know that and they need to feel it," Baclawski said. The semifinals and finals of this tournament are scheduled for Feb. 7 to 9 in Carson, California.

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