MANCHESTER, England - In the chase for Mia Hamm's world record, Abby Wambach leads by two.
The veteran forward has 142 goals for the U.S. women's soccer team. Christine Sinclair of Burnaby, B.C., has scored 140 for Canada. If Hamm's mark of 158 falls any time soon, it will go to one of the two players who have battled countless times over the last decade, a scenario that's more likely after Wambach's announcement Sunday that she's feeling more confident about playing another four years.
On Monday, Abby and "Sincy" will meet again amid the biggest stakes ever for a U.S.-Canada match — a place in the gold medal game at the London Olympics.
"You're talking about two fantastic players," Canada coach John Herdman said, "people who will turn into legends when they retire."
While Wambach has been well-feted worldwide in her career, Sinclair is often referred to as the most underrated player in the game. That's because Wambach is the opinionated leader of a team that wins titles, while Sinclair is a private person who for years has toiled for a national squad searching for its first big breakthrough.
A win over the U.S. would guarantee Canada its first top-three finish at an Olympics or World Cup, not to mention the country's first Summer Games medal in a traditional team sport — not counting rowing or equestrian — since a men's basketball silver in 1936.
"I think that getting to the semis in the Olympic Games is validation for her and what she's been able to do for her country over the past decade," Wambach said. "I do believe that this is not about Abby vs. Christine Sinclair. This is about United States vs. Canada. We want to show that we play good soccer, and we want to show that our defence is good enough to stop one of the best goal-scorers in the world.
"If we can shut down Christine Sinclair, I think we're going to have a good day."
The Canadians haven't beaten the Americans in 11 years — a span of 26 games — but they've improved in recent years by giving Sinclair some help. With Sinclair drawing attention from defenders — and with Herdman frequently using her as more of an attacking midfielder — it's been Melissa Tancredi of Ancaster, Ont., who has led the team with four goals in the tournament. Sinclair has three.
"Christine, for me, she's like a Rolls-Royce," Herdman said. "She just floats around the pitch, and everything about her is class, as a person on the pitch, off the pitch."
So what kind of automobile is Wambach?
"A bit of everything, really," Herdman said. "But she's got to be stopped. She's got a Ferrari alongside her, and that causes a few more problems."
Herdman was referring to Alex Morgan, the speedy American who has two goals in the tournament. Wambach has four — one in each game — and says she's playing pain-free after battling Achilles tendinitis for about three years. Her desire to keep playing until the next World Cup and Olympics has been in question because of her ailing legs, but she's now more optimistic.
She said dealing with the pain "day-in, day-out" has been exhausting, "But for some reason it's eased over the last couple of weeks and I am happy. I've even been talking about for-sure playing through the next Olympics right now if my body can hold up. That makes me happy."
Wambach said she's tried all sorts of remedies for her Achilles, both holistic and traditional. She also has been wearing compression sleeves on her legs following games to help blood flow, a treatment that's meant more for recovery for her 32-year-old body rather than as a specific aid for her Achilles.
Wambach's health has been a boon for coach Pia Sundhage, who hasn't had to worry about replacing her top player late in games. When asked earlier in the tournament which players she couldn't do without, the coach named only one.
"Each of them have something, but I have to mention Abby Wambach," Sundhage said. "All the teams they have one player they rely upon. Not only the fact that she is the best in the (penalty) area, the best in the world, but she's a team player. We have a star that is a team player."
Much the same could be said for Sinclair, who at 29 appears likely to end up the eventual No. 1 on the goals chart.
Right now, there's the matter of trying to beat the Americans. Asked about a strategy for the game, Sundhage didn't have to think hard.
"Where is Sinclair playing?" the U.S. coach said. "That is the first question we will try to figure out."
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