The world catches up to Christine Sinclair

In a rivalry that may mirror the visceral Canadian-American rivalry that has defined the world of women’s ice hockey for several generations, the semi-final of the London 2012 Games set the stage for what may be the turning point in Canadian women’s soccer. With the lead having changed hands four times, the US (led by Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan) came back from a 3-2 deficit to prevail by a controversial 4-3 tally.

Contested in Manchester, England, home to some of the greatest soccer matches played in history, the ladies of Canada and the United States ensured that the fans would bear witness to some outstanding women’s soccer. Despite the 4-3 loss to the United States, Sinclair gave one of the greatest performances in Summer Games soccer, in what may have been one of the most exciting and entertaining matches in women’s history. The all-time leader in goals scored for the Canadian national squad, Sinclair scored a hat trick against Hope Solo. It was the first time Solo allowed more than two goals in the London Summer Games. Said hat trick was among six goals scored in overall play at the Games.

Despite the heartbreaking loss: two themes in the game were evidently clear: despite their number one ranking, the United States were humbled, and Christine Sinclair is truly one of the world’s elite soccer players. If the world did not know how great a star she was, the August 6 contest was her coming out party.

The bronze medal game against France was another example of Sinclair displaying the essence of leadership. While she did not score the game winning goal, her presence made all the difference as Diane Matheson scored the goal that helped Canada clinch the historic bronze medal.  It was Canada’s first medal in a team sport at the Summer Games since 1936, when the Canadian men’s basketball squad claimed a silver medal. Sinclair has conducted her game with a quiet dignity that would have made legends like Pele and Maradona proud.

The native of Burnaby, British Columbia, she is a seven-time recipient of the Canada Soccer Player of the Year award, while a five time nominee for FIFA World Player of the Year. Her uncles, Bruce and Brian Gant played in the North American Soccer League. A two-time champion in WPS (once with FC Gold Pride and the second with the Western New York Flash), Brazilian superstar Marta played with her on both championship teams. With the Flash, Sinclair led the WPS in goals scored, and was named MVP of the Final.

A legend at the University of Portland, she scored 23 goals as a freshman, while being named All-American. In 2002, the sophomore led the NCAA with 26 goals, and scored the goal to give Portland the national championship. The Globe and Mail named her one of the 25 most influential people in Canadian sports. The final game of her career with Portland resulted in two goals scored during a 4-0 defeat of UCLA in the national title game. A two-time winner of the Hermann Trophy, the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy in NCAA soccer, she became the third soccer player to win the Honda-Broderick Cup (awarded to the College Woman of the Year).

Although Sinclair will have other opportunities at Summer Games gold, and at the World Cup (being hosted by Canada in 2015), there is no question that should those goals go unachieved, Sinclair will always be a Canadian sporting legend. As Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain were two of the first legends in United States women’s soccer, Sinclair has cemented her legacy as the first Canadian soccer superstar.

Carli Lloyd plays the game of her life

Following in the footsteps of legends like Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, and Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd scored the two biggest goals of her career. In what was the game of her life, the 30 year old from New Jersey logged a goal in each half, as the US climbed to a 2-0 lead over Japan at Wembley Stadium. Despite a late goal by Japan, the US would clinch the gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Games.

This would not mark the first time that Lloyd would score big goals in Summer Games play. At the 2008 Beijing Games, she scored the game winning goal in a 1-0 victory against Japan. She would notch the gold medal winning goal in overtime versus Brazil. She would be named the US Women’s Soccer Player of the Year for 2008. While playing in the shadows of more popular players such as Alex Morgan and Hope Solo, she has quietly built a world class career that would be the envy of players worldwide.

With the tension of having lost the 2011 World Cup to Japan, Lloyd and her teammates faced tremendous pressure. The eighth minute of the 2012 Gold Medal match resulted in Lloyd’s first goal, a header off a pass from Alex Morgan that was meant for Abby Wambach. Before halftime, Lloyd nearly scored again but the Japanese goalkeeper Fukumoto made an impressive save to deny Lloyd. With nine minutes gone in the second half, Lloyd ran approximately 30 yards before launching a shot that resulted in the second score of the game.

Despite strong performances by Japanese players Saki Kumagai, Yuki Ogimi and Aya Miyama, a repeat of their championship performance at the 2011 FIFA World Cup was not meant to be. For Lloyd, the road to victory at London 2012 was marked by other goals.

At the Summer Games Qualifying tournament in Vancouver, British Columbia, Lloyd made her presence felt. In a Group B Match versus Mexico, the US bested them by a 4-0 tally, marked by Lloyd’s first career hat trick. In addition, she was named player of the match. For Lloyd, the honours would not end there. With a 3-0 defeat of Costa Rica in the semi-final of the Qualifying Tournament, Lloyd was named player of the match once more. She would finish with six goals (tied for the team lead) and three helpers, as the US went undefeated.

For Lloyd, her time in the spotlight was long overdue. The former Rutgers Scarlet Knights soccer star (named 2001 Big East Rookie of the Year), has had 141 caps with 40 goals with the US women’s team. The year 2007 marked the dawn of Lloyd’s presence as a prime time player. She was the top scorer and most valuable player at the 2007 Algarve Cup. In addition, she played in the 2007 FIFA World Cup, a first for her. In starting three first round games, she would finish the World Cup third on the team in scoring, with nine tallies and three assists.

She competed for the Chicago Red Stars in the first season of Women’s Professional Soccer in 2009. Despite making 14 starts, she scored two goals and recorded an assist.  At the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup she scored her first ever goal in World Cup play during a 3-0 win versus Colombia. Lloyd also left her mark in one of the most dramatic and exciting World Cup games ever played. After fighting back from a 2-1 deficit to force overtime against Brazil, Lloyd had a penalty kick against the Brazilians, which would help the US advance to the semifinals. A harbinger of things to come, Lloyd would deliver the goods once again in a golden day of retribution.