While the Canadian and American women's soccer teams are playing a friendly (or exhibition match) in Winnipeg Thursday, relations between the teams have typically been anything but, especially in the wake of the controversial 2012 Olympic semifinal and the follow-up 2013 exhibition match that led to allegations of racism. That's why it's so surprising to see U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo say in the leadup to Thursday's match that she views Canadian striker Christine Sinclair as the best player in the world right now. Here's the direct quote, via the CBC:
"I've said for a long time that I believe, in my humble opinion, that Christine Sinclair is the best player in the world," said Hope Solo, the goalkeeper for the U.S. team Canada will play Thursday in a friendly.
"You don't always get to see how brilliant she is because she doesn't always have the support players but I think now she's starting to get the support players she needs to really highlight her own play."
That means Solo ranks Sinclair above Brazil's Marta — a five-time FIFA World Player of the Year — and even her own teammate Abby Wambach, who has scored more goals than Sinclair or anyone else in women's soccer.
"She plays both sides of the ball," Solo said. "Marta, she gets the ball with her feet, she can score goals. But Christine Sinclair, she reads the game, she passes, she gets assists and she's dangerous every time she gets the ball. . . I've looked up to her and I've admired her as a player for a really long time."
Well, that's only partly true. It's notable that in the wake of that 2012 Olympic semifinal (which saw Sinclair record a hat trick in a controversial 4-3 loss), Solo said "We made her look good. We didn't win those air battles." Of course, that was with emotions running high after the match (and poor defensive play doesn't necessarily preclude offensive greatness as well), and she praised Sinclair on Twitter soon afterwards, so it's not like Solo has always been a Sinclair-basher. Still, this is a new and remarkable level of public support, especially for a player on a team that's had so many memorable battles with the Americans. Moreover, in addition to being a rival on the international level, Sinclair is one on the club level as well; she plays for the NWSL's Portland Thorns, while Solo is on the Seattle Reign, meaning that they're embroiled in plenty of heated battles there too.
It's also interesting that Solo sets Sinclair above several of her own teammates. Wambach's been one of the world's very best for a long time, and at 33, her career isn't necessarily wrapping up. (Sinclair is three years younger, though, and there's at least an argument that she might be better at this particular moment in time.) The U.S. team also features plenty of other stars, including the up-and-coming Alex Morgan (who finished third in Player of the Year voting in 2012), so it's surprising that Solo ranks Sinclair above them. Of course, Solo's long been noted for speaking her mind and not being overly diplomatic, but it's still unusual to see this level of praise for a rival.
How accurate are Solo's comments? Well, there's a solid case to be made for Sinclair as the world's best, even if she's never even finished third in FIFA World Player Of The Year voting. (She has been nominated six times, most recently in 2012, where her omission from the shortlist sparked plenty of outrage.) Sinclair has proven to be one of the top players in the world, and she excels in a wide variety of areas. She's third all-time (behind Wambach and former American star Mia Hamm) in international goals with 148, and while there have been some very talented players setting her up, the Canadian team hasn't usually had as much supporting depth as the Americans. Solo's quite right to point out that Sinclair has probably had to create more herself than either Wambach or Marta. Sinclair has also proven to be a gifted playmaker, and she can be tenacious in defence as well, frequently tracking back and winning balls in midfield. She might be a more versatile all-around player than anyone else.
Is Sinclair the world's best overall player? That's tough to say, as top-tier players like Sinclair, Marta, Wambach and Nadine Angerer (the German goalkeeper who won the 2013 World Player of the Year) all excel in their own areas, and they aren't easy to compare. Still, Sinclair probably deserves more consideration than she typically receives outside Canada. Her skill's at least impressed Solo, and that's notable given the fierce rivalry the Canadian and American teams have. While relations between the sides haven't always been friendly, there's definitely a level of respect there, and Solo's comments illustrate that.