Christine Sinclair never could have imagined that being both a star for the University of Portland women's soccer team and a dean's list student could be such a breeze. But just having to juggle the demands of Pilots coach Garrett Smith and those of her comparative-histology and Asian-philosophy professors is a piece of cake compared to what she's endured for the past four years, during which she has also been a member of the Canadian national team. "This is the first season I haven't had to miss any [Portland] games," says the 5'9" senior striker. "Everything is so much easier when you're on one team and can focus on one priority."
So easy, in fact, that she leads the nation in scoring, with 32 goals and 72 points, and last month broke Brandi Chastain's NCAA record by scoring a goal in her 17th consecutive game (a mark equaled shortly thereafter by Penn State's Tiffany Weimer). This week Sinclair will lead Portland into the NCAA tournament, where the No. 2--ranked Pilots (18-0-1) will try to win their second national title in four years, cementing Sinclair's standing among such Portland luminaries as Tiffeny Milbrett and Shannon MacMillan, who later went on to become U.S. soccer stars. Sinclair has tied Milbrett's school record of 103 and appears on the way to breaking it.
A native of the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, Sinclair is considered "the Michael Owen of women's football" in her home country. (Owen is the wunderkind who, at the age of 18 in 1998, became the youngest person to play for England's national team in the 20th century.) Sinclair made her debut for Team Canada in March 2000, when she was 16, and scored nine goals before her 17th birthday. In international competition she has scored a remarkable 53 goals in 71 games and is one of 24 players on the shortlist for the '05 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year.
Sinclair started playing soccer as a four-year-old, winning league, provincial and national championships along the way. She was recruited by many U.S. colleges, but attending Portland was a given. The Pilots' coach at the time, Clive Charles, was a longtime family friend. (Sinclair's parents, Bill and Sandra, rented a house from Charles in Vancouver.) That made it all the more devastating when Charles lost a three-year battle with prostate cancer in August 2003. "It was very hard for me," Sinclair says. "That was the semester I redshirted to train for the World Cup, so I couldn't even be around my teammates."
Sinclair admits that having so many commitments can be taxing. Just two weeks after leading Portland to the school's first NCAA title in any sport, in 2002, she left to help her country qualify for the '03 Women's World Cup. (The Canadians lost to Sweden in the semifinals.) "It's difficult for her to come back and wonder, Do I fit in here? Are people upset I left?" says senior Lindsey Huie, Sinclair's co-captain on the Pilots. "Our team tries to make it easy for her. We hate to see her go, and we're always glad when she comes back."
On the pitch Sinclair has adjustments to make as well. "At school we play a game of possession; you always get the ball at your feet," she says. "On the national team we play more long balls. I'll come to practice for the national team after being in college, and my coach is like, What are you doing?"
But one thing never changes: Sinclair's ability to score. She has a special ability to lull defenders to sleep, creating space for herself, then rocketing the ball with her deadly right foot. "She is beyond a 22-year-old player. She should be considered a 31-year-old," says Smith. "She has size, strength, speed. It's a complete package."
As Sinclair prepares for her final games as a collegian, in a way she has finally found a chance to slow down. "It's nice to get settled in and stay in one spot," she says. "You're only in college for four years. I can be on the national team for a long time."
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If Christine Sinclair and No. 2 Portland make it to Texas A&M for the College Cup, on Dec. 2 and 4, here are the teams they are most likely to meet.
PENN STATE Fueled by senior striker Tiffany Weimer (above), the Lady Lions had a perfect regular season and are ranked No. 1. Weimer has scored 25 goals this season, nine of them game-winners.
NORTH CAROLINA U.S. national team members Lindsay Tarpley and Heather O'Reilly (both played in the 2004 Olympics in Athens) will lead the No. 3 Tar Heels' attempt to win a 18th NCAA crown.
UCLA Backed by sophomore goalkeeper Valerie Henderson, who ranks sixth in the nation in goals-against average (.393), the No. 4 Bruins have the stingiest defense in the field.
NOTRE DAME With the most-potent offense in the country (an NCAA-best 4.58 goals per game), sparked by senior Katie Thorlakson, the defending champs will make a run at a second straight title.
STEVE GIBBONS (SINCLAIR)
When not scoring for Portland, Sinclair has starred on Canada's national team.
JOHN TODD/ISI (WEIMER)