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B.C. soccer icons Sinclair, Schmidt say goodbye to ‘best job in the world’

Canada’s Christine Sinclair, left, practices with teammates ahead of Tuesday’s friendly match against Australia in Vancouver on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson

Christine Sinclair asked for 145 tickets for friends and family for her international swansong.

“There might be eight left,” the Canadian captain said.

“I should have asked for more,” said veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt. “I didn’t know I was allowed.”

“I didn’t know I knew that many people,” countered Sinclair.

Tuesday’s friendly against Australia will mark the 331st international outing for Sinclair, the 226th for Schmidt, and the last for both. Veteran goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who announced her international retirement in January after 119 caps and 47 clean sheets, is also being honoured Tuesday but says she will watch from the sidelines.

A relaxed Sinclair and Schmidt, longtime friends and often roommates on the road, met the media after Sunday’s practice at B.C. Place Stadium, which is being renamed Christine Sinclair Place for the night Tuesday. On Sunday, the giant scoreboard above centre field read CS Place, with Sinclair’s No. 12 adorning a Maple Leaf.

Sinclair and Schmidt both came off the bench in Friday’s 5-0 win over Australia in Langford, B.C., before a sellout crowd of 6,102 at Starlight Stadium.

More than 45,000 tickets have already been sold for Tuesday’s match.

“I’ve tried to treat the first part of the camp like any other camp we’ve had,” said Sinclair when asked what the week has been like. “Trying to focus on beating Australia twice.

“But I knew that once we kind of moved back to Vancouver, things would change. Just the vibe around practice. I think we had like a half-an-hour-long photo shoot so we could all take individual pictures with everyone. I think it’s kind of sinking in now that this is it.

“It’s actually really enjoyable to play football without any stress,” added the 40-year-old from nearby Burnaby. “It’s a nice feeing.”

The two games against Australia are a bonus for Schmidt who announced in February she was retiring from the international game after this summer’s World Cup. But she came back this month to time her exit with Sinclair.

“It’s just been a real treat to be in this week,” said the 35-year-old midfielder from Abbotsford, B.C. “It’s always an absolute honour to represent Canada. So (I’m) definitely making the most of that and taking that part seriously. But off the field there’s no place I’d rather be.

“Sinc and I were reminiscing and just talking about how amazing this environment is — how great the humans are here. So just a lot of laughter. Soaking it all in. My pups (Leia and Oats) are here, bringing a lot of joy to the team. (I’m) just embracing it. Because time is dwindling away very quickly.”

Sinclair and Schmidt were both 16 when they made their senior international debut.

Sinclair made her first cap on March 12, 2000, in a 4-0 loss to China at the Algarve Cup and scored her first goal two days later in a 2-1 win over Norway. In the process she became the youngest-ever Canadian player and goal-scorer, records subsequently broken by Kara Lang.

Twenty-three years later, Sinclair leaves the international game as the world’s all-time leading scorer with 190 goals.

She says she is looking forward to meeting former teammates at Tuesday’s game and made a point of mentioning past stars like Charmaine Hooper “that never got the proper sendoff and celebration.”

“So I can’t wait to share that moment with them, because honestly they’re the ones that built this program and we’re only here because of them.”

Schmidt debuted April 19, 2005, in a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands. She scored the first of her 20 senior goals for Canada eight days later in a 2-0 win over France.

While retiring from the international game, both are continuing their club career. Sinclair has said she plans one more season with the Portland Thorns while Schmidt is under contract with the Houston Dash through 2024.

Asked if she had any advice for young players looking to follow in her footsteps, Sinclair said: “Honestly, just dream and go for it.

“All the players on the national team, we were once that young kid that had aspirations and dreams of playing professionally, and representing Canada at World Cups and Olympics. There’s no secret. It’s a lot of work but man it’s the best job in the world. Just go for it. Anything’s possible.”

READ ALSO: B.C. declares Dec. 12 Christine Sinclair Day