The last time Christine Sinclair carved her way through the opposition as a Vancouver Whitecap she scored the game-winning goal and assisted on another in a 3-0 victory over the Ottawa Fury in the W-League's championship. No one could match her raw power and on-field vision and was an easy choice as the tournament's MVP.
It was Aug. 7, 2006. She's even better now. Better yet, she's back.
Sinclair, the face of women's soccer in this country, is set to rejoin her hometown Whitecaps on Saturday for one game in what is turning out to be a recurring theme this season for the women's team. Fellow national team member and former Whitecap Randee Hermus made a similar cameo appearance two weeks ago, heading in the winning goal in Vancouver's 2-1 home win over the Los Angeles Legends.
Sinclair will help fill the void created by the loss of a number of Whitecaps to the country's under-20 side that is in preparation for U-20 Women's World Cup qualifying in Mexico from June 17-28. With as many as 21 Whitecaps players in consideration for the U-20 team, Vancouver could be missing as many as half of its starters, if not more, for Saturday's game.
It's fair to say Sinclair won't be coming off the bench.
"Christine is an icon in Canadian women's soccer and a huge part of our 2006 W-League championship and all these young players are excited that she could be involved," said Whitecaps head coach Bob Birarda, whose team will look to remain undefeated when they play host to the Seattle Sounders on Saturday at Swangard Stadium.
"Christine herself, I said 'hey, look I'm thinking about this' and she just got a big huge smile on her face and said 'yeah, this will be great'. It's just a good fit for us and for the fans to see her play again."
While the Whitecaps' younger players will be leaned on heavily for the next month, a pair of international players from other countries could also prove to be vital to the team's success. German mid-fielder/defender Katrin Schmidt arrived in Vancouver this week while Finnish forward Sanna Talonen joined the Whitecaps last Wednesday and has been spotted into a pair of games already. Helping the adjustment is that the two -- along with Whitecaps goalkeeper Erin McNulty -- play their collegiate soccer together at Florida State. Both Schmidt and Talonen are expected to be among Vancouver's starting 11 against the Sounders.
"It's only been one practice, but it's a fun group of girls and a good mix of experience and youth," said Schmidt, who has played three years with Florida State, which lost in the NCAA championship game in Dec.
"I think we can learn from them as they can learn from us. It's hard to say what my role will be after just one practice, but I'm here to help this team win and I will play my best to do that."
Both players have made an impact on Birarda -- Schmidt by her calming presence on the pitch and Talonen for her offensive ability. Most importantly, he likes them as people. Both women walked into a situation best described as organized chaos as a result of many of the Whitecaps players coming-and-going depending on the needs of the U-20 and senior national women's team.
"For them coming in it must be kind of bizarre -- especially Katrin who just got here and the U-20s are practicing here and the world cup team here and the Whitecaps there," admitted Birarda, who also serves as head coach of the U-20 women's team.
"It's a mix bag right now. It would have been nice for her to come into a settled group and an environment where everyone was good to go and working together, but fortunately she's handling it very well at training."
Vancouver (2-0-2) sits second in the W-League Western Conference, one point back of the Pali Blues, and can position themselves for a playoff berth with a win over Seattle (1-0-1).
"Despite all the distractions this week, we're hopeful we can group together and have a really positive performance," said Birarda.
As everyone knows, with Christine Sinclair in the lineup, anything's possible.
GOAL DUST: The Whitecaps will be honouring longtime women's team captain and assistant coach Andrea Neil following Saturday's game. Neil retired from competitive soccer last December as Canada's most-capped international player with 132 senior appearances. The Vancouver native not only appeared in four FIFA Women's World Cup finals between 1995 and 2007, but helped the Whitecaps to a pair of W-League championship titles in 2004 and 2006. She holds the Whitecaps all-time records for games played and started (69), minutes played (6,066) and assists (22).
© The Vancouver Sun 2008