October 23rd Edition

Christine Sinclair announces retirement & CPL Final preview

Christine Sinclair announces retirement & CPL Final preview

It is a week Canadian Soccer fans had long prepared for, but one that somehow still feels like it came way too soon.

The undisputed GOAT of Canadian footy, Christine Sinclair, announced she will be retiring at the end of the year with one of the coldest retirement posts we have ever seen.

In response, it looks like something of a retirement tour across Canada is on its way as the nation celebrates the incredible career of Queen of the North.

More on Sinclair, the CPL Final and all things Canadian footy ahead in this week’s edition of The Northern Pitch.

Christine Sinclair / Instagram

It was probably the most shared video in Canadian sports this week. A simple black and white clip of a pair of Nike Tiempo boots hanging from a goalpost.

The significance of the video was soon confirmed: after 17 years with the Canadian Women’s National Team, Christine Sinclair was announcing that she would retire from international at the end of 2023.

The 40-year-old from Burnaby, BC will do so as the greatest international goalscorer of all time, having potted an absurd 190 times (and potentially more depending upon her last few matches) in 327 caps for Canada. She won Gold at Tokyo 2020, a pair of Olympic Bronzes, three NWSL championships for club and was named Canada’s Athlete of the Year in 2012.

Canadian footy fans will be given a final opportunity to watch Sinclair over the next few months, as she was named to the side who will face Brazil in a pair of friendlies in Montréal and Halifax (although that one is already sold out). Reports also indicate that the national team will play a pair of friendlies at the end of November at BC Place, and at Starlight Stadium on Vancouver Island — as Sincy will hang up her national team boots in her home province.

We also learned this week that Christine Sinclair blocks the United States women’s national team on X as her rivals tried to share some love, which is the level of petty competitiveness that truly makes Sinclair the greatest to ever do it.

Sincy will still be playing another year for the Portland Thorns of the NWSL, which basically makes that a mandatory away day for any Canadian footy fan to see one of the coolest, who also feature DARBY Issue 3 cover star Janine Beckie for good measure.

André Varty / DARBY

On Saturday, October 28th at Tim Hortons Field the Canadian Premier League is getting a rematch of its first-ever CPL Final in the 2023 edition as the most successful playoff team in league history, Forge, host the most successful regular season team, Cavalry.

Forge have been to all five CPL finals, and have won three so far, but still have never done so at home after a 1-0 loss to Pacific in the 2021 Final. That will be the goal for them as they host a Cavalry team who they beat 2-1 during the league’s 1st vs. 2nd match, a victory that earned them hosting rights for the final.

Cavalry, meanwhile, had a bit of a longer route to the final after losing that match, being forced to play in the semifinal against Pacific on Saturday as a result. They dominated that match, however, and emerged 2-1 winners after a set piece masterclass and a huge performance from CPL Player of the Year nominee Ali Musse.

Incredibly, that victory was Cavalry’s first playoff victory in their history, as despite all their success in CPL regular seasons, the postseason has always been where they have fallen short. In fact, it has often been Forge in their way as the Hamilton side beat them in the inaugural 2019 final, before doing so again during last year’s semifinals.

Cavalry advancing to the final also confirmed that Forge will joining them in the 2023 Concacaf Champions Cup. Forge have a strong history in continental competition, appearing in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 editions of the now-defunct Concacaf League, appearing in the semi-finals in 2021 which qualified them for the 2022 Concacaf Champions League. That competition saw them fall 4-1 on aggregate to Mexican giants Cruz Azul.

Cavalry have never played in Concacaf competition before, but earned the right after finishing as 2023 Canadian Premier League regular season champions. As a result, regardless of how the final goes Forge earn the second CPL berth in Concacaf as the runners up during the regular season.

Other news this week

🇨🇦 Canada WNT have released their roster ahead of Brazil friendlies. CanWNT are headed to their fifth consecutive Olympic games, medalling the last three times and will look to defend their Gold Medal. How will they prepare for the upcoming Olympics? By taking on Brazil in Montreal and Halifax towards the end of October. This friendly match is more than just an exhibition, this could be a potential knockout match Canada could face in Paris 2024. As such, Canada has called up players who will likely feature this summer or have been displaying exceptional performances in their local clubs. Players like Melissa Dagenais from the University of Miami received her first call-up, and Emma Regan returned to the squad for the first time since 2018. Other notable regulars include Captain Christine Sinclair, Kadeisha Buchanan, Quinn, Jessie Fleming and Cloé Lacasse, with Deanne Rose and Jayde Riviere returning from injury. The full roster can be found here.

🇪🇸 Real Madrid is rumoured to move on Alphonso Davies. We’ve spoken about this rumour a few editions ago, but it seems like this transfer rumour is picking up momentum. Despite having two years left on his contract, Phonzy’s agent has not denied a possible move to the Spanish capital. Real Madrid’s interest in Phonzy is “no longer a secret.” Bayern Munich have placed a £35 million price tag on the Canadian talent. Real Madrid has no full-time left-back since central midfielder Eduardo Camavinga replaced Ferland Mendy in the full-back position. Alphonso Davies is the perfect fit for that void and could see a move in the summer of 2024—the first Canadian to grace the mythical Santiago Bernabeu.

👀 Bobby Smyrniotis interested in the Canada job. Three CPL titles, and an appearance in five consecutive CPL finals in the league's first five years. Toronto FC’s first choice was Smyrniotis before John Herdman. CF Montréal also considered him before Losada put ink to paper. Bobby has created a blueprint for youth development in Ontario by creating the Sigma FC academy system, which has been involved with the development of Richie Laryea, Tajon Buchanan and Cyle Larin—a coach who understands talent development, tactics and an intrinsic understanding of grassroots Canadian football. For Canada Soccer, selecting Smyrniotis as head coach is a no-brainer. If Canada wants a Canadian to coach the national team, Bobby Smyrniotis is the fitting candidate unless someone like Carlo Ancelotti or Ange Postecoglou pulls up. However, for the sake of Canadian football, Bobby Smyrniotis is the man for the job. Sorry, Mauro. Nothing is confirmed, but this is the move we want to see in a post-Herdman era.

🙌 Rylee Foster returns to the pitch after 731 days. We are embarrassed to admit that this story should have been in last week’s edition. However, it is important that we say it now: after a near-fatal car accident, Rylee Foster graces the pitch after 731 days against Melbourne City. Her recovery story is a life lesson of persistence and believing in oneself. Foster had moments of falling out of love with the game, contemplating quitting football and dealing with uncertainty about the future. She went on trial at Celtic but failed the medical. That is when Wellington Phoenix presented itself as an opportunity to play again. We encourage everyone to read the story. It is worth the read.

🏆 More Champions League! UWCL Group Stage has been drawn. Canadians will be facing off each other at the group stages while Chelsea will attempt another run at the final. The west London club was drawn in the same group as Real Madrid, Paris FC and BK Häcken FF. Jessie Fleming, Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan feature for Chelsea, and they fill the face-off against Ottawa-born Clarissa Larisey’s Swedish side Häcken. Vanessa Gilles’ Olympique Lyonnais is in group B alongside SK Slavia Praha, SK Brann, and SKN St. Pölten Frauen. Benfica’s sensation Marie-Yasmine Alidou has been drawn into group A with Barcelona, FC Rosengård, and Eintracht Frankfurt. Evelyne Viens will feature for Roma in Group C, playing against Bayern Munich, PSG and Ajax. That’s the group of death that’s worth watching.

🇨🇦 Canada will face Jamaica in the Concacaf Nations League quarterfinals and Copa America qualifier. Is Canada versus Jamaica slowly becoming a Darby? This is just the latest matchup between the two countries for a major tournament berth. Are we going to need a name for this one? Let’s not get off track. Canada plays away in Jamaica on November 17th, while the boys in red will host the Reggae Boyz at BMO Field on November 21st. The winners of the two-legged match will move on to the Concacaf finals next March, also securing a spot as a guest in Copa America 2024. The South American tournament will be hosted in the US, and the competition will welcome six Concacaf teams. In other words, if Canada wins this matchup, they could be playing against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. We’d love to see that.

👏 US international and TFC captain Michael Bradley retires from football. MetroStars, SC Heerenveen, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Aston Villa, Chievo, Roma and Toronto FC. This is Michael Bradley’s club resume between 2004-2023. He has spent more time in Europe than in North America and has been a trailblazer for North American ballers in Europe. The US international has featured for the USA from 2006 to 2019. He has played in two World Cups in 2010 and 2014. Last Saturday, the Toronto FC Captain played his last professional game at BMO against Orlando. Unfortunately, his last game was also a 2-0 loss. This is a reflection not of his career but the abysmal season that TFC has experienced. Nonetheless, Bradley’s 308th game in all competitions for TFC ended with a standing ovation at BMO Field as he exited in the 80th minute—a proper send-off.

✍️ Vanni Sartini signs a new two-year contract with the Whitecaps. Once again, Vancouver pulled off another clutch signing: Vanni Sartini. A season with impressive signings, this is the most crucial contract that the Caps have solidified. Vancouver completed an impressive regular season, won the Canadian Championship, and demonstrated to be the most competitive Canadian club at the moment. A momentum has been established, and keeping that consistency with Sartini will lead the Caps to potential MLS glory either in this post-season or within the next two years. But for now, the Whitecaps face LAFC in round 1.

Vancouver Whitecaps

🔨 Forge FC open the West stand for CPL Final. And just like that, section 112 sold out within 24 hours. Due to the high demand, Forge FC have opened ticket sales for the lower west side of Tim Horton’s Field. Also, there is limited ticket availabilties for the East stand. Is it safe to say that Hamilton is a soccer city?

⚽️ Evelyne Viens registers a goal and an assist against Sampdoria. Viens has been balling out for the Roman side, she scored the second goal of the game for Roma after beating her marker and outpacing the last defender with a calm finish at full pace. EAFC, give her a 99-pace rating, s’il vous plait. Viens also registered an assist for the fourth goal. So EAFC add another 5 or 10 to her assist rating, please.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Jayde Riviere registers her first professional assist. The young baller out of Markham makes her first professional assist for Manchester United in the Barclays Super Women’s League. Riviere sent a cross into the box, meeting Rachel Williams’ close ranger header, contributing to United’s 5-0 win over Everton.

Manchester United Media

🗓️ It was Decision Day in the MLS, and the only club that needed to perform to confirm a spot in the post-season was CF Montréal. While Vancouver Whitecaps have already secured a playoff spot, Toronto FC aimed to finish the season positively.

🔵 CF MTL travelled to Columbus to face former head coach Wilfried Nancy. CF Montréal started the game strong, with Sunusi Ibrahim scoring the game's first goal. The first goal was great and simple football. However, the Crew weren’t going to lose at home. They replied with two quality goals from Juan Camilo Hernandez and Darlington Nagbe. Montréal’s defensive block was shocking. The midfield was turning over possession, and the forwards lacked penetration or imagination to unlock the final third. The Crew defeated MTL 2-1. With the New York Red Bulls converting a late penalty against Nashville, CF MTL loses their playoff spot to NYRB. Players and staff of CF Montréal deserve respect and love after losing key players and an influential coach in a disruptive off-season. Not a good way to go.

😔 Nancy sent a message to Saputo that night. Wilfried was the right man for MTL and can turn any squad into an efficient team, producing results. A few weeks ago, Arcadio Marcuzzi revealed all the internal problems with the club. Notably, the lack of funding from the club owner. MTL’s last game highlighted those issues. Without proper investment into the club’s infrastructure and the unwillingness to acquire a high-profile player, MTL will forever knock on the playoff door and, at best, have its foot in it. But will never re-enjoy their 2016 Eastern Conference playoff run without the needed investment. The fans are not customers, they are supporters that deserve to watch their club win. Montréal as a city needs a win, not revenue.

🌊 Vancouver Whitecaps hosted LAFC at BC Place. They are the only Canadian club to qualify for the playoffs and have been the only consistent club in Canada. Despite the final scoreline of 1-1, this game demonstrated quality football. Goals from LAFC’s Denis Bouanga and Caps’ Ali Ahmed, assisted by Richie Laryea show the quality of football we expect to see in the playoffs. However, moments worth forgetting in this game were the Ryan Gauld penalties. By no means were they awful shots just unlucky. Two penalties one was saved, and one hit the crossbar. Surprising from Vancouver’s star player. On the other hand, good for Maxime Crépeau. After a lengthy injury, Maxime is reminding everyone that he might be Milan Borjan’s replacement.

🔴 Well, it’s been a tough season for TFC. The last game of the season and the last professional game of Michael Bradley ended in a disappointing 2-0 loss to Orlando. On the bright side, John Herdman will have his way of rebuilding TFC into its former glory. This is Toronto’s worst season, finishing with 22 points with a record of 4 wins, 10 draws, and 20 losses.

🏅 The CPL revealed the nominees for the majority of this season’s awards, with the exception of the Players’ Player of the Year to be announced at a later date. The five nominees for Player of the Year have been announced: Manny Aparicio (PAC), Kyle Bekker (FOR), Lorenzo Callegari (HFX), Daan Klomp (CAV), and Ali Musse (CAV). Nominees for Coach of the Year are Patrice Gheisar (HFX), Bobby Smyrniotis (FOR) and Tommy Wheeldon Jr (CAV). Marco Carducci (CAV), Triston Henry (FOR) and Rayane Yesli (VAL) have been nominated for the Golden Glove Award. The relationship between keepers and defenders is sacred. As such there is some overlap in clubs between in the nomination of Golden Gloves and Best Defender of the Year: Manjrekar James (FOR), Daan Klomp (CAV) and Daniel Nimick (HFX). The nominees for the CPL’s equivalent of rookie of the year, Best Canadian U21 Player, include James Cameron (VFC), Matteo De Brienne (VAL) and Kwasi Poku (FOR). The only concrete wins have been Atlético Ottawa’s Ollie Bassett and Cavalry’s Myer Bevan picking up the Golden Boot award.

All of the winners will be announced during a special awards event on Thursday, October 26, available to watch on OneSoccer. 

Northern Picks

Gems from at home and across the pond.
This week’s picks come from Benedict Rhodes (@BTFR17)

Benedict Rhodes is a Canadian footy journalist who primarly writes for the Canadian Premier League, as well as his newsletter True North Sports, all about Canadian sports in general. He has also written for DARBY Magazine, The Guardian, Waking the Red and more. 

📚 What to read

There's only one place I could go with this this week, and that's the autobiography of the GOAT, Christine Sinclair. Her book, Playing the Long Game, co-authored by the great Stephen Brunt, is a detailed look into the life of the greatest international goalscorer ever. Sinclair doesn't often seek out the spotlight or speak her mind, so this book is a great way to see some of the pivotal moments from her life and career from her own perspective.

📺 What to watch

If you, like me, live and breathe Canadian soccer, it doesn't get much better than the matches coming up on Saturday. First, the Canadian women's national team play the first of two friendlies against Brazil, at Stade Saputo in Montréal. A few hours later, the Canadian Premier League Final takes place in Hamilton, with three-time champions Forge FC taking on bitter rivals and regular season champions Cavalry FC in a match that promises to be full of drama, and ending with one team lifting the new North Star Cup. If that isn't enough for you, the Vancouver Whitecaps open their playoff campaign away to LAFC later that night as well. 

🎧 What to listen to

Who doesn't love a bit of nostalgia? Recently I've been going down a lot of YouTube rabbit holes watching old Premier League highlights, and naturally that led to re-discovering some of the old TV intros, and the songs from them. This one from 2010-11, featuring a great song in Fire by the band Kasabian, is the best of the bunch in my opinion. Stick that song on repeat and let the memories of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Robin Van Persie, Yaya Toure, Andrey Arshavin, and so many other legends come flooding back.