Christine Sinclair was the difference for the Vancouver Whitecaps women on Saturday. No surprise there.
Maybe not so expected is the lasting impact the Canadian national team star's one-game cameo appearance will make on the W-League club. More than Sinclair's two goals in a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders at Swangard Stadium, it was her passion and professionalism that could prove to be the most influential on the Whitecaps' playoff hopes.
Both traits were never more evident than in the 84th minute with the score deadlocked at 1-1. The Burnaby native was seemingly hauled down in the box by a Seattle defender, but much to Sinclair's and the crowd's disbelief, referee Marco Arrudo waved play on rather than awarding a penalty shot. Outraged, the striker was then given a yellow-card for arguing the missed call.
It didn't take long for her to regain her composure. Sinclair burst between a pair of Seattle defenders to net the game-winner just three minutes later.
"To see Sinclair's response today in getting the yellow card and get angry and really want to compete for the club is something that sends a big message to the rest of these players," Birarda said after the entertaining game, which preceded a 3-1 victory by the Whitecap men over the Portland Timbers in the night's second match. "They see that this is important, that this is a big deal for everybody. So I think they can take a lot from that and go away and see if they can't keep it going for us."
Sinclair opened the scoring in the 25th minute and import Sanna Talonen found the back of the net in the second minute of injury time to round out Vancouver's scoring.
Sinclair, who is in town training with the senior national team in advance of the Summer Games, signed a one-game contract to help Vancouver overcome the loss of several Under-20 national team players who are preparing for an U-20 World Cup qualifier in Mexico later this month.
"I just felt like I had so much energy out there," said Sinclair, who scored a pair of goals including the game-winner in the 2006 W-League championships -- her last appearance with the Whitecaps. "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."
The win improves the Whitecaps women to 3-0-2 on the season, one point back of the Western Conference-leading Pali Blues and four points clear of third-place Real Colorado Cougars. Vancouver has one game in hand on Pali (4-0-0) and is two games up on the Denver-based Real Colorado (2-0-1). Only the top two teams in the division advance to the playoffs.
It was a tale of two halves in the night's second match as Portland jumped out to a 1-0 lead, but was overwhelmed by a three-goal outburst in the second half. Martin Nash, Eddy Sebrango and Alfredo Valente scored for Vancouver (7-2-1) who extend their win streak to four games and as a result sit two points up on the Charleston Battery (6-2-2) in the 11-team United Soccer League's First Division.
"I thought we were poor in the first half, and I didn't like it," said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson, who made some key substitutions by inserting Jason Jordan and Valente after 45 minutes. "In the end, we became stronger and stronger, and when we play like we did in the second half, we are a good side that is difficult to beat."
© The Vancouver Sun 2008