The next top scorer: Will Sinclair’s record stand the test of time?

Post-game coverage (video above) provided by OneSoccer.

Christine Sinclair has made history, but will her name stand the test of time?

Sinclair finally reached her long-sought milestone for Canada in her team’s latest 11-0 win against St. Kitts and Nevis on Jan. 29, scoring her 184th international goal to match Abby Wambach’s top-scoring mark, before beating it in the 23rd minute to notch goal no. 185 as the all-time leading scorer in international soccer, for both women and men.

As the uncontested top scorer in women’s soccer history, Sinclair’s name now stands alone atop the rest, and while she isn’t done playing just yet, it’s hard to see how any of her peers will ever be able to match her accomplishment in the years to come.

In 290 matches, Sinclair has managed to find the back of the net an astounding 185 times – that’s good for 0.64 goals per game, on average. It’s shy of Wambach’s 0.74 goals per game, of course, with the U.S. striker earning her record over the course of 256 appearances for the Stars and Stripes, but with Wambach calling it quits in 2015, there’s no immediate challenger to Sinclair’s crown at the moment, anyway.

In fact, the list of active players who could even make a claim to the throne isn’t exactly wide: icons such as Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, and Birgit Prinz, with 158, 130, and 128 goals apiece, have long since retired; Carli Lloyd, Brazilian striker Marta, and Alex Morgan are the three active players with the closest looks, but at 121 goals for Lloyd and 107 each for Marta and Morgan, the gulf remains massive at the top.

RELATED READING: Christine Sinclair breaks goals record in CanWNT’s Olympic qualifying win

Marta, 33, is entering the twilight of her career; Lloyd, 37, is surely contemplating retirement, too; Morgan, the youngest of the bunch at 30, has a long way to go, but represents the best chance of any current top scorer in challenging for this particular accolade.

Should Morgan, who also averages about 0.64 goals per game, continue to rack up goals and appearances over the next six to eight years, she could reach the 185-goal mark in the next decade … but it’s a stretch, for a few reasons.

Namely, Sinclair was 26 years old when she reached her 100-goal mark; Morgan did it at 30. If Morgan continues to score at her career rate, she’d need well over 100 matches to make up the 78-goal difference between them … assuming Sinclair doesn’t add any more to her tally, either.

Morgan could, of course, rack up big numbers over the years, and it’s not unfeasible in the slightest to presume that the prolific American striker will challenge for the top five or even the top three.

But pipping Sinclair would require a gargantuan effort on her part, made even more difficult when considering a few other variables at play here.

Namely? The women’s game of 2020 is vastly different to the women’s game of 2010 and before it. When Sinclair was padding out her resume, Morgan, who was still in high school, was coming through the ranks of a still-in-development U.S. soccer system for the women’s game. The rest of the world was even further behind.

It’s only in the last five or so years that we’ve seen a tremendous investment in the women’s game, after all. The level of organization at the club and international level today is unprecedented, and still relatively new. World Cup matches in the 2003 Women’s World Cup, for example, averaged three goals per game – the U.S. and Germany, for instance, finished their respective groups with a +10 and +11 goal differential, respectively.

Brazil followed suit in 2007, posting a +10 goal difference in their own group, before defeating the U.S. 4-0 en route to the final where Germany, who had defeated their own quarter and semi-final opponents 3-0 apiece, beat them 2-0.

By 2011, this metric starts to even out. By 2015, every nation (except Germany, with a +14 GD spurred by a 10-0 win over Ivory Coast) battles it out to fairly evenly-contested tilts. An established hierarchy has emerged, of course, as is the case with any international contest, but the middle pack has become significantly more bolstered. Group results are not a foregone conclusion anymore; established outfits like Mexico and Spain experience group stage failure; teams like Japan, China, and Australia emerge as genuine threats; England and France have become top contenders; the rest of the world is catching up.

Take away the isolation of World Cup results on their own, and you’ll see major European clubs like Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City and Chelsea invest into their women’s teams, marketing them heavily and making major international signings in order to drum up interest; in North America, the NWSL is founded in 2012, and most U.S. and Canadian talent find a place to play in cities like Portland or Orlando.

The game is growing. And, with it, the level of talent across the park increases.

So, what does this mean for Morgan? Or, really, for any prospective challenger to Sinclair’s throne?

It means, simply, that the game has become much more difficult to play. Scoring a goal isn’t as easy as it may have been in the past. There are better defenders to contend with, playing for more organized and tactically astute outfits, with better coaching, with higher stakes, and more familiarity and respect given to opponents that weren’t historically tough challenges. The middle of the pack has become stronger; the top has become more elite, too.

Morgan enters the decade facing all of these obstacles in a way Sinclair hasn’t had to for much of her career. Sinclair had the benefit of catching a wave of growth in her sport that now sees Morgan face a tremendously more challenging world of professional soccer.

In fact, even reaching the 100-goal mark for country will be seen as a challenge in its own right in the years to come. Only Ali Daei of Iran has done it on the men’s side, with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo sitting pretty at 99 goals at the moment.

The disparity in quality aside, nothing is guaranteed for young players in this sport anymore, either.

When Sinclair was young, she was immediately afforded an opportunity to start. Players like Jordyn Huitema don’t have that same luxury; everything must be earned in a way that wasn’t necessarily the case in the past, where competition for spaces wasn’t as challenging. Player pools deepen when the overall level increases; rising tides, boats, and all that.

So, what does that mean for Sinclair the record-holder?

Perhaps nothing. Perhaps the female Messi emerges and scores 200 goals without a problem. Perhaps Morgan goes on a tear and leaves the symbolic Canadian playing second fiddle by career’s end.

Or, perhaps, Sinclair will stand the test of time, having dominated a sport in an era where one single player could indeed make such an overwhelming contribution to her country and to her team. Records rise and records fall in all sports, of course, but in Sinclair, Canada may have found a timeless hero, a warrior of legend on an infinite throne.