The night was drenching but more so was the adoration.
Canadian soccer legend Christine Sinclair was engulfed in it Friday night before a soaked sold-out crowd of 6,102 at Starlight Stadium that stayed right to the end to see out the all-time world scoring leader Sinclair in her penultimate game in a Canada jersey.
When asked why baseball great Ted Williams refused to come out of the dugout to take a bow after his last career home run in Boston, the author John Updike wrote: “Gods do not answer letters.”
But one sporting god did answer at Starlight as Sinclair acknowledged the crowd before and after the 5-0 victory against Australia. Sinclair came into the game at 63 minutes to a thunderous standing ovation. And she stayed long after the final whistle signing autographs and posing for selfies.
Goals by Nichelle Prince at 10 and 42 minutes gave Canada a 2-0 first-half lead. Cloé Lacasse added to it with a strip-steal breakaway goal at 48 minutes and Simi Awujo with a well-placed shot just outside the box at 55 minutes. Adriana Leon left no doubt with a header in the 62nd minute.
The five-member Hillstead family flew out from Weyburn, Sask., for the game. Sisters 11-year-old Lexi and six-year-old Kabri Hillstead were decked in No. 12 Sinclair gear and held up signs reading: “Weyburn loves Christine Sinclair” and “Let’s Go Canada.”
“I love Christine. Every girl on our team in Weyburn knows who she is,” said Lexi Hillstead, who made the trek out West for the occasion, also with brother Ben and dad Tyler and mom Melissa, all involved in soccer in Saskatchewan.
Other signs around the stadium read: “No. 12: Thank You Is Not Enough” and “The GOAT is Canadian.”
The Pedro family of Victoria had the biggest Canadian flag of the night and waved it proudly, as they did when Canada was last at a similarly sold-out Starlight Stadium in 2022 for its 2-2 draw against Nigeria, as part of its post-Tokyo Olympics gold-medal tour, with Sinclair scoring that night on the Island.
The rain was fitting because Sinclair grew up playing in these wet West Coast conditions in Burnaby. So did Clare Rustad on Salt Spring Island. The retired Rustad was a Canadian teammate of Sinclair’s and among the throng at Starlight Stadium.
“Christine built Canadian women’s soccer on her back,” said Rustad, a medical doctor, broadcaster and Olympian with 45 caps.
“As players on the national team, we looked up to her quiet determination and focus.”
The raindrops silhouetted against the floodlights actually made for an evocative nighttime tableau.
There was a bit of a grudge element to the game as host Australia humbled defending Tokyo Olympic champion Canada 4-0 in the final group game of the 2023 FIFA World Cup in July at Melbourne to eliminate the Canucks en route to the Matildas finishing fourth in the World Cup.
“We wanted this as revenge,” said fan Anna-Maria Medina of Victoria, who was at that World Cup game in Melbourne cheering on Canada.
“The whole experience was amazing but that night was awful,” said Medina, decked out in Canada gear at Starlight on Friday.
Medina got her wish for payback, and then some, as it rained on the Aussies in more ways than one.
Canada returned from the 2023 World Cup debacle to qualify for Paris 2024 by beating Jamaica in a home-and-home CONCACAF Olympic qualifying set.
“This [Sinclair farewell tour] has made up for a difficult year,” said Canada coach Bev Priestman, before the game.
Australia is in the midst of Asian qualifying for the Paris Olympics and the games at Starlight Stadium and B.C. Place on Tuesday are preparation games.
For Canadian soccer, the games mean much more than that.
CORNER KICKS: It was a capital idea in the capital city as the B.C. government declared Dec. 12 to be Christine Sinclair Day in the province. Sinclair’s jersey is No. 12 and she was born on June 12 in 1983.