She stood out before the game even kicked off, towering over most players and announcing her threat level with bright orange boots.
And 25 minutes into the Vancouver Whitecaps game against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday at Swangard Stadium, it appeared as if Christine Sinclair night was going to double as guaranteed-win night.
It eventually did -- a 3-1 victory -- but not before Seattle made a bid to do some serious damage to Vancouver's playoff hopes and ruin a festive occasion that also included the retirement of Andrea Neil's No. 5 jersey.
"I just felt like I had so much energy out there," said Burnaby's Sinclair, whose 87th-minute winner came on a skilled, left-footed strike from 12 yards, just three minutes after receiving a yellow card in the box when she thought a penalty kick was forthcoming.
"Playing back at Swangard in front of my family, playing for the Whitecaps again. It was a blast -- the most fun I've had playing soccer in a long time."
Sinclair, in town as the senior national team prepares for the Olympics, was signed to a one-day contract to help the Whitecaps overcome the loss of several under-20 national team players. They're busy preparing for the CONCACAF women's under-20 championship in Mexico, June 17-28.
It took just 20 seconds for Sinclair to fire a shot and she was front and centre during an opening onslaught that had the field tilted like the final moments of the Titanic.
Vancouver had a goal disallowed, hit two goal posts and had a clear-cut breakaway in the early stages. When Sinclair neatly lobbed a shot past Seattle goalkeeper Katie Hultin from 15 yards out to open the scoring 25 minutes in, it appeared as if the route was on.
Seattle pushed back around the 30-minute mark, however, and equalized on Lisa Sari's penalty kick in the 71st.
The Sounders then threatened to go ahead, Sari hitting the post and Tameka Sumter heading just wide seconds after the tying goal.
Finnish international Sanna Talonen added Vancouver's third goal in the 90th minute.
"I was almost a bit surprised by how much we looked like a team in the first 30 minutes considering how things have gone in preparation for us," said Whitecaps head coach Bob Birarda, who relied
heavily on Sinclair, who last suited up for the Whitecaps in 2006.
"But when you have Sincy up front, making those kinds of moves ... I think everyone took some
confidence from who was on the park tonight. After their goal we had a mental collapse, and then I was really pleased by the response to go back at them and finish the game."
It was an important win for Vancouver (3-0-2), which heads out on a three-game California road trip that includes a meeting with the front-running Pali Blues (4-0-0). Only the top two teams in the
W-League's Western Conference make the playoffs and the season is just 12 games long.
After the game, Neil had a
retirement address where she revealed that she originally chose the No. 5 because she idolized Bob Lenarduzzi, something that was news to the Whitecaps' flattered president.
"Women's soccer wouldn't be where it is today without [Andrea's] contributions," said senior national team member Kara Lang.
© The Vancouver Province 2008