Wambach seeks bragging rights


U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach, right, controls the ball in front of Japan's Saki Kumagai during the final match at the Women's Soccer World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, on July 17, 2011. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Published: Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 5:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 5:38 p.m.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — UF alum Abby Wambach and Christine Sinclair have spent the last two weeks chasing each other, chasing history and chasing a place in the London Olympics.

Part three has been accomplished. Wambach and the U.S. women's soccer team qualified for the Summer Games on Friday night by beating Costa Rica. Sinclair and the Canadians punched their ticket a couple of hours later with a win over Mexico.

Now for a little competitive fun. The United States and Canada play each other Sunday in the championship game of the qualifying tournament. With the Olympic berths settled, the game is essentially for bragging rights between neighboring rivals.

“You try telling the players it's a glorified friendly when they play against the U.S.,” Canada coach John Herdman said. “Nah. The sleeves are off straightaway.”

The teams feature the two most prolific active goal-scorers in the world, and they have been putting on a show at BC Place.

Wambach and Sinclair played on alternate nights during the group phase of the tournament, and it almost seemed as if one was trying to top the other. Sinclair opened with four goals against Haiti; Wambach followed with a pair against the Dominican Republic. Sinclair got one against Cuba; Wambach notched two against Guatemala.

Wambach then went silent — scoreless against Mexico and Costa Rica — while Sinclair added two more against both teams.

Where do they stand now? It's a tie. They have 129 career goals apiece. They've both passed Germany's Birgit Prinz to move into third place all-time, one behind Kristine Lilly and still quite a few behind Mia Hamm's world-record 158.

“I think it's just going to be a matter of time whenever Sincy or I end up breaking Mia's record,” Wambach said. “Obviously we want to stay healthy and contribute to goals scored for our team. But, quite honestly, I've said this from the beginning — I'd give away every record, individual, that I've ever won for a world championship, and I think that Sincy would probably say the same thing.

“But it's cool, it's amazing to be alongside such a fantastic soccer player like her. She's the essence of the blue-collar worker, coming from a country who generally speaking hasn't competed well in the world championships.”

Wambach didn't stop there. She also called Sinclair “the most underrated player in the whole world” and “probably the best all-around player.”

This is a goal-scoring race flush with mutual respect.

“I actually think that mostly likely neither of us think about it too much,” Sinclair said. “We both play on successful national teams, and we both play forward for that team, and we're expected to score goals. Usually when the U.S. or Canada is winning, it involves us scoring.”

They have different playing styles. Wambach is always hanging around the goal, and has the best header in the women's game. Sinclair has been playing a more withdrawn position to give her more versatility on the attack.

Their personalities are different as well. Wambach has the gift of gab, while Sinclair is more of a reluctant star. For many years, she was just about the only reason to watch the Canadian women's team, although the talent around her has improved considerably in recent years.

“Canada is a very good side — with the exception of Sinclair,” Mexico coach Leonardo Cuellar said. “She's in another world.”

It seemed out of character when Sinclair appeared on a scoreboard video throughout the tournament proclaiming: “Some say I'm one of the best. But to be the best, you have to win something big.”

She didn't write that script — it was a video promoting Canadian soccer — but she doesn't argue with the second sentence. Canada has been to World Cups and Olympic Games, but its best finish is a fourth at the 2003 World Cup.

“This is a team sport, where, yeah, individuals can do some great things and score some goals, but until your team actually wins or gets on the podium on whatever the case may be, it's hard to say that you're the best,” Sinclair said. “It's at the point where we're all done with the participation, and we want to get something out of it.”

First comes Sunday's little tussle with the Americans. This will be the 51st meeting between the countries. Canada has won only three. Five have been draws.

The rest? Well, suffice it to say the Americans have a world power for more than two decades, while Canada has been trying to catch up.

“They don't frighten us,” Herdman said. “But they're a team that we'd love to tip over on home side. They don't come up here very often, and I hope the whole of Vancouver rock on and give us a hand beating the Americans.”

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