The Game Not Played

Christine Sinclair, the greatest female soccer player in the world, won’t get the career she deserves

Christine Sinclair runs on the soccer field.
Wikimedia Commons

In september 2011, when John Herdman was named coach of the Canadian women’s national soccer team, he sat down with his laptop and composed a diptych. The first image portrayed Christine Sinclair, the best female soccer player in the world, impersonating roadkill. She stares into the distance, eyes dead, nose smashed inward and to the left. An unidentified teammate places a consoling hand on her head, but she remains disconsolate. The picture was snapped right after the team’s second game in the 2011 International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) Women’s World Cup, a 4–0 trouncing by France. The result eliminated Canada from the competition, and after four years of merciless toil the team would return home with nothing but grass stains and painkillers.

Alongside this memento mori, the coach slotted a stock photo of the newly minted 2012 London Summer Olympics medals: Nike, goddess of victory, bearing her robes through Athens’ Panathenaic Stadium. Misery and triumph, separated by a pixel. “I have a vision,” Herdman told the players he spoke with over the course of that terrible autumn. He conjured Sinclair atop a podium, brandishing a glinting disc of Olympic bounty. “I see you up there,” he insisted. “Together, we can make this happen.”

The power of any diptych lies in the conceptual peanut butter sandwiched between the canvases, in this case the wholesale rebuilding, reconstitution, and rehabilitation of the Canadian women’s squad, premised on the fact that the football gods, to say nothing of football fans, are owed the full weaponization of Sinclair’s dexterous feet.

The Olympic semifinal loss to the United States in 2012—in which Sinclair scored three goals on the way to the best individual effort on a soccer pitch this country has ever seen, and wherein Canada was subjected to a series of controversial refereeing calls that only FIFA officials are capable of engineering—will one day be recounted in song (hopefully not by Nickelback). When Herdman’s fateful predictions came to pass and Sinclair did indeed mount the podium to accept bronze, a klatch of ethnically diverse women flooded the talk-show circuit, pitching Just Do It self-affirmation to a country unaccustomed to the cruel beauty of soccer. Suddenly, it was safe for Canadian girls, many of whom now spend their childhoods on the soccer pitch, to idolize celebrities who ate food.

Bronze, however, is not gold. Upcoming, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, scheduled for Canada in 2015. Home soil advantage and new-found success bring unimaginable pressure. It is unfair to both the players and the coaching staff to suggest that winning depends entirely on Sinclair, but it is no less absurd to suggest that anything can be achieved without her; she factored in 65.9 percent of goals scored by her team in 2012. She is Daniel Day-Lewis among a team of Paul Danos, and while her dominance is acknowledged in North American soccer circles, football is a global game. We tend not to give statistics, even statistics as compelling as hers, the necessary credence until there is a shiny piece of FIFA-emblazoned hardware to back them up.

So, scorer of 145 international goals; bearer of the Maple Leaf at the Olympic closing ceremony; winner of the 2012 Lou Marsh Memorial Trophy for Canadian athlete of the year; consensus pick among her peers as the best all-around female soccer player in the world. Unjustly—and football is manifestly unjust—it all adds up to far less than the sum of its parts. At stake in the next two years are not just the pride of a nation and the local popularity of a rising women’s game, but the historical standing of the player without whom it can only rise so high.

It is january 2013, and Christine Sinclair has just cleared customs after a long flight. She leans in to interpret the nattering of several football bureaucrats, the numberless men in puffy jackets who converge on tournaments in the world’s least accessible crannies. Their solicitousness is edged with threat. “Remember,” they seem to be saying, “FIFA is everywhere.”

We are in Chongqing airport, gateway to China’s vast, restive west. Since the Olympics, Sinclair and FIFA have been locked in an icy détente. She is here to support her team in the 2013 Four Nations women’s football tournament, but she is not allowed to play, serving out a four-game suspension for tangling with officials at the Olympics. She brushes off the spat with the usual footballer banalities: “Oh, it’s no big deal. The media has made it a lot bigger than it really is. And they won’t leave it alone. I mean, I’m here, training, which is what I need to do.”

She has a distinctive way of carrying herself, which hints at her comportment on the pitch. Switchblade lithe, she pushes her baggage cart with arms akimbo, like a musclehead contending with recently pumped lats. Her standard facial expression is ironic bemusement, and a vein is always prominent on her right temple. Her eyes are a limpid, wintry blue. She cocks an ear at the officials, who still brandish the sign emblazoned with her name, as if reminding her of her own identity. Before long, she is stuffed into a minibus, along with her bags, and whisked off into Chongqing’s foggy bowels.

This year, the Chinese tournament is contested by Canada, Norway, South Korea, and the host nation. It is the first set of games Canada has played since winning bronze, an inexcusable organizational lapse on the part of the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA). Six months without kicking a ball in anger is far too long. The team puts up seventy kilometres from the airport, at Yongchuan’s Minghao International Hotel, which my wife describes as “hunting lodge baroque crossed with Qing-era opium overdose.” This is where I find Christine Sinclair, amid the clutter of a buffet, overlooking a standard Chinese pre-apocalyptic vista. Behind us, her teammates caterwaul their way through dinner.

“Air’s pretty grim, huh? ” I say, gesturing to the window.

“Yup.” Sinclair slides in across from me and braces for the worst. Her manager insisted over the phone that she was eager beyond words to meet me. It turns out that the only accurate part of that statement is “beyond words.”

The diminishing privacy of stardom has not been easy on Sinclair, for whom the term “introvert” is somehow too garrulous. Her backstory was meticulously established over the course of the Olympics, mostly during a summer press orgy that depicted her Burnaby, BC, family performing rote Canadian activities such as barbecuing, waving Maple Leaf flags, and hugging Grandma. “ ‘Go, Auntie Canada, Go’: Christine Sinclair Makes Family Proud,” read one Calgary Herald headline, with a picture of adorable niece Kaitlyn on the lap of the family matriarch, Peggy Gant.

Football is, and always has been, the familial glue. The standard narrative—and from this the Sinclairs do not deviate—is that Christine reluctantly took up the sport as a four-year-old. Whatever older brother Mike did, she wanted to do better. She was a gifted child athlete, with an unshakable ability to focus on kicking a ball farther, harder, and with greater accuracy than the Platonic ideal of a footballer instilled in her through family lore. Insofar as men’s soccer has contributed to Canadian sports royalty, her uncles Bruce and Brian Gant would qualify as lesser nobility—stalwarts in the now defunct North American Soccer League (NASL), and in Brian’s case a fourteen-cap midfielder for the men’s national team. According to Sinclair, there was no obsession with Manchester United or Galatasaray; unlike so many local soccer families, the Gant/Sinclairs are unhyphenated Canadians.

“I don’t even know who Mike’s favourite player was,” she tells me. “Or mine. In terms of who was on our walls, I had Roberto Alomar of the Toronto Blue Jays. I played soccer, but I didn’t know there was a national team. There was no Internet, no games on TV.” This purity, unsullied by anything as crass as cheering for a foreign team, is fundamental to her football ethos.

In the middle of this tidy biography, gloom settled in. Her mother coached Christine’s club teams until she was almost eleven. (When I ask about their routine, she tells me sharply, “In terms of practices with my mom, I have no idea. I can’t remember. No idea.”) Soon after relinquishing her coaching duties, Sandra Sinclair developed symptoms of multiple sclerosis that put her in a wheelchair. The family doesn’t hide her condition, but it is nothing Christine is keen to discuss.

As if on cue, a commotion from the buffet: “Christine’s my hero!” yells backup goaltender Karina LeBlanc. “Sincy for president!” insists another.

Sinclair blushes. “Aw, guys, c’mon,” she pleads. Laughter from between the chicken kung pao and the garden salad.

This gentle joshing, these grim hotel buffets in unpronounceable towns in faraway lands have been the major components of Sinclair’s life since her mid-teens. Now turning thirty, she earned her first national team cap when she was sixteen, and she has not been off the roster since. Most of us leave sports trips behind after high school. We do not stay in hotels with a group and a coach and a chaperone and a schedule. The lifestyle has not resulted in suspended development per se, because the cruelties of life ignore no one, and they certainly have not ignored Christine Sinclair. Rather, she has existed in an unaltered state of junior high social interaction.

“Is this a normal life? God, no,” is how Maeve Glass, the team’s equipment manager and den mother, puts it. (She is basically an old school chaperone, keeping an eye out for perverts with cameras and other lurking dangers. “We do get some stalker-quality types,” she tells me.) Sinclair has thus evolved, or frozen, into a superannuated preteen. “When I go home,” she tells me, “nothing has changed. It’s like I’m ten years old.”

“Silent,” “humble,” “jokester,” “really actually incredibly funny”—I hear them all during the course of my days in China. Also, less charitably, “surliness mixed with girliness.” But my initial impression lingers: Sinclair is not diva difficult, merely diffident. And she has not yet perfected the art of concealing her deep streak of unhappiness behind the sheet metal of a public persona. “Yeah, she sure keeps her counsel,” Herdman tells me. “You know, I’m not sure how many conversations I’ve had with her since coming on board. She’s just—quiet. That’s who she is.”

If christine sinclair has a signature, it is this: A ball is booted up from the attacking back line. It rolls toward the defending back line. Stalemate. As if from nowhere, a figure bolts forward, usually off the right wing. The ball is at her feet, and she makes directly for the goal. Then a shot—hard, soft, to the top right corner, doesn’t matter. Sinclair almost always finds a way to finish. She is the most preternaturally calm striker the women’s game has ever known.

In an effort to see this in the flesh, I hitch a ride on the team bus to the Yongchuan Sports Centre, a fifteen-minute drive from the hotel. The Canadian Women’s National Team is an assemblage of young athletes oozing a vitality and haleness I can only hope is contagious. Spray tan has been liberally applied; the bus smells like an explosion in a Body Shop. And there is no way to glean the names of family members or dead homeboys by reading an arm or a thigh, as there would be with men’s teams. It would be difficult to find a group of young North American females with less visible ink. After the short ride, we file out into the stadium, where cranes crowd the arena like browsing brontosauruses. “Jeez, it smells nasty here,” says one of the players.

Almost every girl in Canada will kick a ball at some point. Gathered on Yongchuan’s cold pitch are the twenty or so who have made it all the way. The first thing the observer notes is that, no, they have not touched the ball enough. The instinctive ball handling is missing, the 10,000 hours of interminable, lonesome practice that forms a soccer player, much of it ideally before puberty. Sinclair has banked the hours. Her teammates, for the most part, have not.

Instead, this group represents the relentless professionalization of the women’s game. Herdman is a short Geordie who sports one of the several hairstyles Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo wears during La Liga games. When he was hired as coach, Herdman imported the support organization he developed as the New Zealand national women’s team coach. He is no screamer. Rather, science is his cudgel. There is not one aspect of the athletes’ physiology or play that goes unmeasured. VO2max, turn percentage, pass percentage, body mass index, sprint speed, everything.

Under the care of César Meylan, the Swiss sports scientist nicknamed Donald Trump for his flap of golden hair, bodies are tuned by specifically designed, individually tailored programs. Girls are no longer called fat for carrying extra pounds, or punished with extra miles if they are unfit. Instead, they get their stats after every session, and the stats cannot be argued against or bargained with. Herdman knows exactly how many seconds he can get from players before they hit the pitch, and he has anticipated how many times they will touch the ball in the lead-up to the World Cup. Nudged, cajoled, and crafted by numbers, this could be the most advanced national sporting program Canada has ever known.

No one escapes the technocracy, including Sinclair. On the field during drills, she appears tall and lean, more so than she seems on television. The way she holds her arms away from her body has the effect of making her look larger. When she runs, she hunches low and slices the air with her elbows and knees, like a piece of threshing equipment, not something you would want to get in the way of. She is very quick. Her genius, however, lurks somewhere in her fierceness, in the resolve that she has the talent to make good on. And, of course, pitch awareness—sharp pings of sonar she sends into the fray, locating gaps, speeding into and through them, emerging with the game under her sway.

Most of this comes naturally, but not all. When I ask Herdman how much he has had to coach her, he says, “Look, when you work with Christine you’re working with an expert. And when you’re working with experts, it’s a partnership. It’s a question and answer process. She doesn’t need rules. She just needs some guidelines.”

For most of her career, Sinclair has played either centre forward or as one of two forwards. Herdman has pulled her back into an attacking midfield position, sometimes referred to as a recessed forward. You would think this would reduce her scoring effectiveness, but she has only become more lethal, potting twenty-four goals for Canada in 2012, by far her highest annual total. She and Herdman have pored over tape of the Brazilian midfielder Kaka, now warming the bench for Real Madrid, as well as the Barcelona geniuses Messi and Iniesta, who play as recessed forward and midfielder, respectively. “You could do worse,” she deadpans when I ask her why these players in particular.

The growth chart of most professional football players, men and women both, resembles a gentle rise upward to a rolling peak, and then a similarly slow decline. The profile of Sinclair’s development mimics Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building: a series of heavenward leaps followed by the briefest of plateaus. The first great jump came courtesy of Clive Charles, a West Ham United player turned coach who helped transform the University of Portland in Oregon into a soccer factory over the course of the ’90s. He played with Sinclair’s uncles in the NASL, and he might as well have recruited her out of nursery school.

In Portland’s contained universe, under Charles’s ministrations, she became one of the most awarded student athletes of her generation. In 2001–2002, she scored twenty-three times, was rated freshman of the year by Soccer America magazine, and won her first of three Academic All-American considerations. She was the first athlete selected as a first-team Soccer Buzz All-American four years in a row, and she holds the National College Athletic Association record for most goals in a single year, scoring on thirty-nine occasions as a senior. Her last NCAA game was a 4–0 thumping of the University of California, Los Angeles, for the title, when she scored twice. Those two markers and the subsequent trophy were in memory of Charles, who died of prostate cancer in the summer of 2003. He was fifty-one years old and widely loved. Few loved him more than Christine Sinclair did.

About the national team coach Even Pellured, who lasted from 1999 to 2008, she says, “He had a very direct style. Literally, our goaltender would get the ball, and they’d bash it up the field. His concept is, the more passes you make, the more chances you have to lose the ball. The farther up the field the ball is, the more likely you are to score. That was his motto.” This made for unlovely football, but it had the advantage of honing Sinclair’s instincts as a pure sniper. The American Abby Wambach is the only other female player today with comparable statistics. But Sinclair has never had the privilege of playing on teams stocked with the likes of Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, and Tiffeny Milbrett, all 100-plus goal scorers, to say nothing of Brandi Chastain (she of the famous sports bra photo, post–America’s World Cup ’99 win) and legendary goalkeeper Briana Scurry. For the most part, Sinclair has been a one-woman show.

When Pellured’s tenure ended, the highly touted Italian Carolina Morace was brought in to replace him. An aesthete, she was determined to introduce possession-based football into a system that would have seemed unsophisticated to a Khoisan berry picker in AD 400. But the 2011 World Cup was a disaster. In the first game, playing the German hosts in front of 74,000 beered-up partisans, Canada faced impossibly long odds. But when Sinclair still managed to score after having her nose crushed by an errant elbow, there was some notion that a Canadian epic poem was being penned with her blood. “The opening game of the World Cup, you break your nose, it’s like uh-oh,” she told me. “I mean, you plan for things, but never for that. I broke my nose, I scored a goal. Maybe it’s just going to add to the story of our team doing well. But no. Didn’t happen.”

Now the technocracy is turning her into an emblem of the twenty-first century, a data-driven sports professional, down to the last vitamin-fortified cornflake.

It is 6:30 p.m., and the schedule demands “grow time,” which I mishear as “grill time,” assuming it is when Herdman turns up the heat on individual players by administering a verbal spanking backed up by video. No—“grow time.” The team gathers in the small conference room off the dining area. A screen is unfurled, and video from the day’s practice session is cued up. “I want the formation working to the beat,” Herdman says, pointing out the rhythm of a certain play. “That’s the one non-negotiable.”

The teammates in this room are no longer the faceless cannon fodder of the Pellured years, but shifting components in an unfolding World Cup 2015 drama. There is the teenage Nichelle Prince, “a raw striker,” as one CSA official puts it, “and a star in the making.” There is my personal favourite, midfielder Sophie Schmidt, who may one day be considered all-world. And, hunched in on herself, watching the screen with the same unflinching intensity she applies to everything, Christine Margaret Sinclair.

Well, not everything. Certainly not interviews, where she is so clearly uninterested that a conversation (and we have had three) becomes mutually agonizing at roughly the ten-minute mark. I cannot help but recall a CTV morning show appearance she made shortly after the Olympics, her hair coloured and straightened, her grey plaid shirt seemingly mis-buttoned, the basket of Tide detergent she was hawking occupying pride of place before her. She weathered the inane banter as best she could, with a quickness of wit that matched the speed of her footwork, but as the interview progressed the TV lights exposed a sheen of effort on her forehead.

Indeed, almost everyone I spoke with over the course of my research expressed some concern for her future. In the grim calculus of female athletic sponsorship, where Maria Sharapova makes the most of her estimated $27.9-million (US) annual haul for how she looks rather than how she plays, how will Sinclair get her (financial) due? “But see, I am selling Coke,” she snaps when I bring up the subject. “There are things in the works. Before the Summer Olympics, there was nothing for women’s soccer players in Canada. Nothing. It’s only been six months since then. I’ve signed with Tide, I’ve signed with Coke, and we’re working on a few others. These things don’t happen overnight. It’s my job to train.”

Of course, she is right. Except that six months equals ten lifetimes in a celebrity culture like ours. Contrast her circumstances with the abundantly blond, blue-eyed midfielder Kaylyn Kyle, a spirited but average player who has, “in terms of sheer market value, been great for us,” a team official tells me. In central Canada, Kyle is basically Kate Middleton in short pants. Busted Coverage, a website that shaves 100 IQ points off Maxim while upping the cleavage quotient by 40 percent, claims Kyle could “easily pass as Carrie Underwood on good days.” The site posted the following piece shortly after the Olympic loss: “The hottest Canadian Olympian, Kaylyn Kyle was one of the Canadian babes brought to tears by Alex Morgan’s* header late in the second period of extra time. Since Kaylyn is far too hot to go down in flames like the rest of her Canadian teammates, we have decided to showcase her one last time in these 2012 Olympics… with her 29 sexiest Twitpics.”

Classy, I know. But Busted Coverage is not far off from how the traditional sports media, including earnest liberal newspapers, tends to deal with female athletes who are not the Williams sisters. Hotness ups the profile, although as someone who has seen Céline Dion up close I can attest to the fact that image is controllable. It helps to have the raw material—that is, blandly inoffensive Caucasian features—but for white folks in general? Almost anything is workable.

Sinclair chooses not to play the image game. This is a vastly admirable decision, one that earns her the nervous befuddlement of those who understand that sports careers are febrile, snappy beasts, intent on mauling their mistresses into penury by fixing on a hamstring, or an Achilles tendon. A lifetime’s work undone in a moment, with no backup plan and no safety net. Female athletes, especially female soccer players, earn nothing close to that of their male counterparts, even the most average of whom will likely end their careers as millionaires—and going by the spotty quality of women’s club football, they don’t deserve to. Sinclair, however, plays in an alternate galaxy, where female football is just as exciting as the men’s game. Sadly, she gets paid in this solar system. While she is by no means broke, “is the best female soccer player in the world a millionaire? ” asks someone close to the team. “I doubt it.”

When we applaud her for not wearing a push-up bra and fake lashes, we need to understand what we are applauding her for. These decisions will cost her millions over her lifetime. And the very ambiguity of her sexuality (she is neither out nor in) poses its own dangers. FIFA counts among its members a majority with no interest in safeguarding the sexually ambiguous. Eucharia Uche, coach of the Nigerian team that played Canada in the third game of the disastrous 2011 World Cup, is said to employ Pentecostal ministers to exorcise lesbian tendencies from her players. In 2008, South African player and lesbian Eudy Simelane was gang raped and stabbed to death in a case that had all of the hallmarks of a hate crime. As Maeve Glass puts it, “Oh, there are people out there who will turn sexuality into something really sinister.”

Unwilling to be sexy, and unwilling to be sexualized. An agent’s worst nightmare. To make matters worse (or better, depending on how you look at these things), Sinclair is not, in my estimation, someone who will find herself comfortable bleating “I’m lovin’ it” or “Finger lickin’ good” as a matter of routine. I cannot see her, like the great American player Mia Hamm, endorsing a soccer Barbie. Her seam of introversion runs uncomfortably close to the surface, which is fine when vying for the Sarah Polley role in an Atom Egoyan film, but less salutary when shilling for Nair. The terrible truth is that if she were male, none of this would matter (except, of course, for the implied homosexuality). Her future financial health would be all but secured. You have to be a drunken fool of the George Best or Paul Gascoigne variety to blow men’s football money. You have to be naked as a Playboy bunny, sober as a nun, and doubly in God’s favour to cash in as a woman.

When the Canadian Women’s National Team arrived at Old Trafford in Manchester, UK, on August 6, 2012, they found that the Americans had stolen their dressing room. It was the afternoon of a semifinal match. Canada was Team A, which meant they belonged in the home dressing room. What to do? Kick up a stink, or behave like Canadians and let it go? The second option was deemed the lesser of two evils.

It had been an odd few days. For one thing, both teams were put up at the same hotel in Manchester. Not just at the same hotel, but on the same floor. When the team walked the grounds of Old Trafford, the ghosts of the greats haunted them with every step. Soon the stands would fill with 76,000 people.

In Canada, 10.7 million souls would watch Herdman’s diptych almost fulfill its implied promise. The particulars of the game have been endlessly parsed: Sinclair’s three markers, the American Megan Rapinoe’s two equalizers, Wambach’s penalty shot to send it to overtime, Alex Morgan’s winning header in the 123rd minute.

The American players are renowned for their resolve. They are, in all things, a team. Herdman knew this, which is why eight months after taking charge he identified the six women on the Canadian team he considered leaders. They, in turn, were asked to name leaders with whom they identified: Harriet Tubman, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and (God help us) Margaret Thatcher. Sinclair was paired with Lady Di, which I found disquieting when I first learned of it. She is the furthest thing from the fragile mannequin who died in a car crash alongside one of her billionaire beaux. Until I realized that the choices Sinclair has made, the recusal of the trappings of sexualized celebrity culture among them, is reminiscent of the saintliness that accrued to Lady Di following her death. There are few similarities between them; we will, for instance, never see Sinclair’s haute couture wardrobe in a travelling exhibition. But she is perceived as breakable, as wounded, for not cashing in.

The culmination of Herdman’s leadership training occurred at a retreat in Salt Lake City, shortly before the team decamped for the United Kingdom. The idea was for each woman to stand up and speak to the team, to open up, to take responsibility—to define what the coach describes as “podium behaviours.” Sinclair spoke for over half an hour.

“There are players who have played with Sincy for fifteen years who don’t know some of the things about her,” Glass tells me. “It was about stripping things down to their bare soul. She exposed her vulnerabilities to people she had known for a long time. It was extremely emotional. She has overcome a lot of adversity in her life. Her mom’s health, issues in the family, some of them pretty significant.”

I can’t think of anyone less suited to this sort of Oprahfied soul cleansing, but anything to forge a winning team. No one I spoke with was willing to divulge the specifics of Sinclair’s remarks. Did she come out? Did she reveal some terrible secret? Did she simply recount the plot of a novel by Nicholas Sparks? Regardless, she left her teammates weeping. The moment was no less critical to the team’s resurgence than her goal-scoring prowess. As Herdman tells me, the process no doubt helped them win a medal.

That said, Lady Di would perhaps have been more princess-like regarding the officiating. “We feel like we didn’t lose,” said Sinclair after the game. “We feel like it was taken from us.” Contrary to most media reports, it is not what was said about referee Christina Pedersen that resulted in censure, but what was said to her. As she walked through the Old Trafford breezeway, she heard Sinclair say, “Fucking whore.” Sinclair claims she said, “Fucking horrible.” As with everything that day, Pedersen’s perception was the law.

That night, in the visitors’ dressing room, it was quiet except for the deep, heaving sobs you hear at funerals for the very young. The despair recalled the sense of shame following the game against France in the World Cup. “Then Sincy gets up,” Maeve Glass tells me. The team captain was resplendent in her red Hudson’s Bay team wear. “And she says, ‘Can I just say something?’ Everybody stopped. The tech team in the room next door. All of the girls dressing. Everybody.”

“I just want to say that I have never played on a team like this in my life,” she said quietly. “I am so proud of you guys.” And then, “I don’t regret what’s happened out there. We’ve got a fucking bronze medal to win, so let’s go and do it.”

“The whole room just went, whew!” says Glass, her eyes filling with tears. “Tension gone. It was so profound coming from a player who had just scored three goals against the top team in the world. It was true leadership. I still get choked up when I think back to it.”

When I try to ask Sinclair about this speech, I don’t get very far. “Oh yeah, hey, I gotta go,” she says, escaping our regular buffet booth before I have had a chance to process her non-answer.

It’s 6:30 p.m. Time to grow.

The printed version of this article misidentified the US goal scorer. She is Alex Morgan, not Abby Morgan. The Walrus regrets the error.

The Walrus thanks the Writers’ Trust of Canada for its financial support of this story.

This appeared in the June 2013 issue.

Richard Poplak
Richard Poplak ( is a political reporter currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa.