Christine Sinclair scores 186th goal as CanWNT moves closer to Olympic berth

  • Canada 2 (Sinclair 26’; Zadorsky 45’+1’), Mexico 0

  • Canadian captain Christine Sinclair scores for third time at the Concacaf qualifiers

  • Canada wins Group B, will face Costa Rica in semis with an Olympic berth at stake

EDINBURG, TEXAS – Christine Sinclair and Canada have a berth at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics squarely in their sights.

Not content to sit on her laurels after recently entering the record books, Sinclair was back to her goal-scoring best on Tuesday evening in guiding Canada to a 2-0 win over Mexico at the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament.

Last week, Sinclair moved past retired U.S. star Abby Wambach as the all-time top scorer in international soccer (for both men and women) with her 185th goal. After sitting out her team’s previous game, the veteran forward found the back of the net again vs. Mexico at H-E-B Park for Canada, who also received a goal from Shelina Zadorsky.

By virtue of its victory, Canada finished first in Group B with nine points, ahead of Mexico, with six points. Jamaica’s lopsided 7-0 win over Saint Kitts and Nevis rounded out group play on Tuesday, as the two sides finished third and fourth, respectively.

In topping the group, Canada will face Costa Rica in the semifinals on Friday in Carson, California. The winner of that match advances to the tournament final on Feb. 9 (also in Carson) and qualifies for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics. Only the two tournament finalists advance to Olympics.

Canada dodged a major bullet by winning Group B. Had Canada finished behind Mexico, it would have to face Group A winner the United States (the reigning World Cup champions and No. 1 ranked team in the world) in the semifinals with an Olympic berth at stake.

The last time the Canadian women beat their American counterparts was in 2001. Canada’s all-time record against the U.S. is 3-49-7, so a do-or-die semifinal vs. Costa Rica, who finished second in Group A, poses a far easier challenge. Ranked eighth in the world, Canada is a perfect 13-0-0 vs. Costa Rica (No. 37).

Sinclair warned that it won’t be an easy game vs. Costa Rica, though.

“Obviously, we’ve had success against them in the past, but these one-off games make for an interesting environment, just the stress that comes with that… We’ll be ready,” Sinclair told in a one-on-one interview.

Likewise, Canadian coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller downplayed Canada’s historical dominance of Costa Rica.

“We’re not fighting history. Every match has its own story, and the match we’re playing against them (on Friday) is totally different,” Heiner-Møller told reporters after the game.

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Tuesday was yet another win for Canada over Mexico in a series between the Concacaf rivals that can be charitably described as one-sided. Canada sports an all-time record of 22-2-1 against Mexico, with its lone loss coming in 2004. Since that setback, Canada is unbeaten in 14 games vs. Mexico (with 12 wins), having outscored its Concacaf rivals 28-7 in that run.

Mexico, No. 26 in the world, put in a valiant effort, but, ultimately, they were no match for Canada.

Indeed, the Canadians have had an easy time thus far in Texas, coasting to first place in Group B without being seriously tested. An 11-0 win over tournament newcomers Saint Kitts and Nevis (ranked No. 127) was followed by a 9-0 dismantling of 51st-ranked Jamaica, and now this latest win over Mexico.

Across the three wins, nine different players have scored for Canada, while Kadeisha Buchanan and Zadorsky have quarterbacked a defence that has hardly looked troubled in recording a trio of clean sheets.

“They’ve played with each other a couple of times, and it’s a good and interesting (partnership). … Their partnership is a good, hard foundation for us to build on, offensively and defensively,” Heiner-Møller said of Buchanan and Zadorsky.

With 186 goals to her credit for Canada, Sinclair has made finding the back of the net look fairly routine. Does she ever grow tired of scoring for her country?

“Never. When I get tired of scoring, that’s when I’ll stop playing. It’s the best part,” Sinclair enthused.

Heiner-Møller made four line-up changes from the last game against Jamaica. Sinclair was back in the starting 11, as were midfielders Gabby Carle (starting at left fullback) and Jessie Fleming. Forward Nichelle Prince also earned a start, making her first appearance of the tournament.

Giving way were defender Allysha Chapman, midfielder Ashley Lawrence, and forwards Deanne Rose and 18-year-old Jordyn Huitema, the tournament’s top scorer with six goals.

Although it dominated possession early on, Canada looked tight and tentative in the opening 20 minutes against a Mexican side that pressed high and used its speed in transition.

“Mexico definitely asked us some questions. It’s a quality side. They can put on an (effective) press on us, and they did, and we knew that was coming. We tried to manage that with different structures… It took us a while to get it right, but when we got it right, it looked good,” Heiner-Møller offered.

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Canada overcame its laboured start to open the scoring midway through the first half with a well-worked goal. Jayde Riviere released Janine Beckie down the wing, and then made a great run off the ball to latch on to Beckie’s return pass. Riviere ran to the end-line before cutting a perfect ball back to Sinclair, who hit a one-timer into the back of the net from 10 yards out.

Sinclair has scored versus 40 different teams in her international career, but her 17 goals vs. Mexico is the most she’s registered against any nation.

“It was one of the few times, especially in the first half, where we actually completed some passes and were dangerous,” Sinclair said of the buildup play that led to her goal.

“Jayde and Janine found themselves with some space on the right, Jayde played a (great) cross in. Something we pride ourselves in is having numbers in the box, and we did and she picked me out.”

Beckie nearly doubled Canada’s advantage late in the half, only to see her shot from 20 yards out tipped onto the crossbar by Mexican goalkeeper Emily Alvarado.

A second goal game for Canada before the halftime break, when Buchanan expertly teed up Zadorsky in the box off a corner kick, and the defender fired a shot that found its way past a screened Alvarado.

Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe was called into action early in the second half when she palmed away a powerful shot at the near-post from Mexican substitute Kiana Palacios.

Huitema subbed on for Sinclair in the 66th minute, in what was likely a move by Heiner-Møller to rest his captain ahead of the semifinals vs. Costa Rica.

Sinclair’s exit didn’t slow down Canada on the attacking end, as Prince (twice) and substitute Rebecca Quinn carved out quality scoring chances, but couldn’t convert after having good looks on goal.

NOTES: The Canadian women have qualified for the last three Olympics, winning bronze medals in 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio… Canada did not qualify for the 2004 Games in Athens, as it was upset by Mexico in the semifinals of the Concacaf qualifying tournament…