Canada’s Christine Sinclair, left, and Costa Rica’s Shirley Cruz chase a through ball during first half international women’s soccer action in Toronto on Sunday, June 11, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Sinclair scores goal No. 181 as Canada heads to World Cup on winning note

Goal No. 181 came in her 281st appearance for Canada

Canada leaves for the Women’s World Cup on a winning note, dispatching an outmatched Mexico side 3-0 on Saturday with captain Christine Sinclair adding to her legacy with career goal No. 181.

It was mission accomplished for the fifth-ranked Canadians, who fly to Spain on Sunday to begin final preparations for the 24-team tournament that starts June 7 in France.

Tougher challenges await. But as farewell bashes go, it did the trick nicely.

It was one-way traffic for the Canadians, who played some entertaining football despite leaving some goals on the pitch against the 26th-ranked Mexicans. The crowd of 19,610, on a cool afternoon at BMO Field, left happy and with memories of a Sinclair strike.

The 35-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., a 14-time Canadian player of the year, is now just three goals back of retired American Abby Wambach’s world record of 184.

Ever humble, Sinclair wanted to talk about the fans rather than her goal.

“It’s always an honour to play at home and to play in front of the Canadian fans. They showed up and it was incredible just to be in that environment,” she said. “We will definitely carry that with us as we make our way to Europe.”

Her goal came in the 53rd minute after a Mexican failed to clear the ball. It went instead to Janine Beckie, who looped the ball past a defender into the penalty box to Sinclair. The Canadian captain took one touch and then clipped a shot in off the goalpost for a 2-0 lead.

It was classic Sinclair, whose composure in front of goal is legendary.

Goal No. 181 came in her 281st appearance for Canada. It marked her 16th career goal against Mexico.

Sinclair and Beckie played provider on Canada’s first goal, scored in the 20th minute by Jessie Fleming after a sweet buildup. A Beckie through ball to Sinclair cut out three defenders. Sinclair then found Fleming alone in the penalty box with Nichelle Prince drawing another defender way from her.

The 21-year-old Fleming, a technically gifted UCLA midfielder who already has 64 caps, coolly slotted the ball past goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago.

For Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller, it was mission accomplished.

“I think we showed them some great football,” he said of the appreciative crowd. “I hope you go back and look at the first goal and just enjoy it. Just enjoy it because that was a fantastic goal.”

Heiner-Moller said the roar of the stadium after that goal will stay with the team.

“I’m going to use a lot of footage from this match to carry on in Europe,” he said. “It was exactly what we needed and wanted.”

Sinclair exited to a standing ovation in the 74th minute, giving way to 18-year-old Jordyn Huitema.

Substitute Adriana Leon made it 3-0 in the 83rd minute, beating Santiago with a downward header from a perfect Ashley Lawrence cross.

Saturday’s game was never in doubt with Canadian ‘keeper Stephanie Labbe saying afterwards she had to remind herself that she was a participant and not a spectator enjoying the play in front of her.

“It’s amazing to play behind that team. They make my job so easy,” she said.

The Canadians dominated play but lacked the finishing touch at times against the Mexicans. That can’t happen in France.

“A strong performance. Obviously I think we could have put a couple more in the back of the net,” said Beckie.

The Canadian women improved their all-time record against Mexico to 21-1-2. The one loss was costly, however, denying Canada a berth in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Canada won 3-2 the last time they met in February 2017 in Vancouver.

Heiner-Moller fielded his ‘A’ team, with only defender Kadeisha Buchanan missing from the starting 11. She was in Budapest on Lyon’s bench as the French powerhouse beat Barcelona 4-1 in the Women’s Champions League final.

The starting 11 totalled 1,069 caps, led by Sinclair’s 281. Nine of the players were at 50-plus appearances with the other two at 49 and 47.

Heiner-Moller rang in the changes in the second half, using six substitutes.

The Canadians are unbeaten in seven matches this year (5-0-2) and have conceded just once. The team is 13-4-2 since Heiner-Moller took over from John Herdman in January 2018 with the losses coming against elite opposition in the top-ranked Americans, No. 2 Germany, No. 4 France and No. 9 Sweden.

Canada will face No. 13 Spain in a warmup game in Pamplona on May 24. An intra-squad game is also planned before the tournament.

Heiner-Moller plans to wait until Friday’s FIFA deadline to file his 23-woman roster.

The Canadian women, who exited in the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup on home soil, open June 10 against No. 46 Cameroon in Montpellier before facing No. 19 New Zealand in Grenoble on June 15 and the eighth-ranked Netherlands in Reims on June 20.

Mexico failed to qualify after going 1-2-0 in the group stage of the 2018 CONCACAF Championship.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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