EDINBURG, Texas — Canada captain Christine Sinclair, two days after her record-breaking performance against St. Kitts, was a spectator Friday as the Canadian team warmed up at training.
The world’s all-time leading goal-scorer was a cheerleader while 16 of her teammates split into groups for a mini-game/relay appetizer in advance of the training main course, which was not open to reporters.
The eighth-ranked Canadians take on No. 51 Jamaica on Saturday at the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship at H-E-B Park. The Reggae Girlz are coming off a midweek 1-0 loss to No. 26 Mexico.
With a possible five games in 12 days at the Olympic qualifier, Sinclair is likely to get a rest at some point. It could well be Saturday for the 36-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., especially given the whirlwind few days she’s had since scoring milestone goals No. 184 and 185 in a 11-0 demolition of No. 127 St. Kitts and Nevis.
“You need to spread your players across the matches,” said coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller.
“We need to make sure that everyone is ready throughout the entire tournament,” he added. “We do that with Sincy often, and also with Des (32-year-old midfielder Desiree Scott) but Des didn’t play too much the other day.”
While Sinclair has 11 career goals against Jamaica, Heiner-Moller has other firepower available.
Adriana Leon, who started against St. Kitts, had four goals and set up Sinclair’s record-breaker on the day. Jordyn Huitema scored one after coming of the bench.
Janine Beckie, Deanne Rose and Nichelle Prince, all of whom didn’t see action midweek, are other attacking options.
Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, fullback Allysha Chapman and Scott, all three regular starters, also could see action after starting on the bench Wednesday. Scott, who played 28 minutes as a substitute, is one cap away from 150.
The Canadian women are 7-0-0 all-time against Jamaica, holding a 48-1 edge in scoring.
Jamaica may be without its own star striker/captain. Khadija (Bunny) Shaw had to be checked out in hospital after a clash of heads with a Mexican defender Wednesday. Shaw, who plays in France for Girondins de Bordeaux, was back Thursday but trained on her own.
“She’s a world-class striker, beyond a doubt,” said Heiner-Moller. “It’ll be too bad if she’s not playing. I hope she’ll be on the pitch.”
The Jamaican strike force also includes Toronto-born Tiffany Cameron, who plays professionally in Norway. She came on as a substitute against Mexico.
Heiner-Moller says his team is back to business after the Sinclair celebrations.
“She was the first one saying it. ‘This is not about me, We need to make sure that we win the next one,”’ he said. “So I think we’re ready to focus.”
After a disappointing showing at last summer’s World Cup and some sub-par performances in the aftermath, the Canadian team appears rejuvenated with a new target in front of it — the Tokyo Olympics. Sinclair’s goal-scoring heroics have also helped the mood.
Sinclair acknowledged it has taken a while to get rid of the taste of the disappointing World Cup round-of-16 exit at the hands of Sweden.
“To be fair, it probably wasn’t until we started this camp in prep for this tournament,” she said Thursday. “Obviously we had some games in the fall in Asia that didn’t go the way we wanted. They sort of felt like ‘Ugh, we weren’t quite there.’ And then something about coming into camp early in January, just the vibe amongst the team … You could just see the focus shift completely to Tokyo and making sure we get there.
“I don’t think you ever get over it — a tournament that doesn’t go the way you had hoped. Now that we’ve got another thing to focus on, it’s really helped.”
Canada is coming off back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
Jamaica took part in the World Cup for the first time last summer, exiting after first-round losses to Brazil, Italy and Australia. The Reggae Girlz qualified for the World Cup via a penalty shootout win over Panama to finish third in CONCACAF qualifying behind the U.S. and Canada.
“They were at the World Cup and they deserved to be there,” said Heiner-Moller. “It’s a World Cup team.
“They’ve got some great individual players. Bunny Shaw was one, but only one. They’ve got some very skilful players all over the pitch. And I know they’re working so so hard. They’ve kind of got the taste for it, I guess, to play international football being at a World Cup. So you know what it’s like and you just want more.
“I expect a very committed and very determined Jamaican team on the pitch.”