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Will Anyone Catch Christine Sinclair?

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

No one owns a record. Not really. The people who hold them act as caretakers. They are placeholders for a time before their deeds are surpassed.

Right now, Christine Sinclair holds the all time scoring record on the international level for both men and women. In 290 appearances Sinclair has scored 185 times. About a goal every game and a half for the last 20 years or so. For the foreseeable future she carries the record on her shoulders. Her 185 goals, and maybe a few more to come before she hangs up her boots, won’t be surpassed. Until someone does. And then they will take over the title for a time.

I want to take a look at who may, and who almost certainly won’t, overtake Sinclair for the scoring record. Who has a reasonable shot, who doesn’t, and what it would take for them to find their name etched in the history books.

One note before we get to the math and the players. This is all the best case. Players get hurt, players get left off roster and in women's soccer ACL's explode twice a week it seems. So this is if all things remain on the best possible path for each player.


The Math

Before we get to the list of players, let’s talk about the math I did to come up with the list.

To try and figure out who might be able to catch Sinclair I had to figure out how often players score goals and then do some predictions based on that.

At the bottom of this piece you’ll find a chart that shows all the details, but the long and short of it is: I looked at the ratio of goals and caps to see how long it takes them to score a goal. Example Sinclair has 185 goals in 290 caps, which is a goal every 1.57 games.

I then took their games/goal ratio and their current distance from Sinclair to work out how many more games they'd need to catch up. I then multiplied that by 19 games - a rough average number of matches most players get in 12 months - to see how many years it would take them to reach Sinclair's current total.

That 19 game number is only an estimate, but it comes from looking at a variety of countries in both non tournament years, taking a few games off some years because of injury or illness, and taking into account not all countries play as much as others. It's not perfect, but it gives us something to work with.

Easy, right? Like I said there is a chart at the bottom that shows the math and how it works. So let’s get on with it.


If there is one player in the world of women’s soccer who would be willing to play deep into her 40s in order to show the world she is the best, it’s Carli Lloyd.

The problem with this is that the USWNT is not a good place for that kind of project. Having a new head coach in Vlatko Andonovski might give her a chance to get on the field for more games, but there's just no way she plays for eight more years.

Lloyd is a year older than Sinclair is right now.

Kim Little has helped put the Scottish Women’s National Team on the map. She's also the Scottish Vice Captain, an NWSL legend, and current player for Arsenal in the FA Women’s Super League. Across all those spaces, Little has been a consistently effective player when she is on the ball.

The Scottish team is up-and-coming these days. But they've spent a long time below their current level. If Little was just arriving today, she might have the support needed to bag herself the goals. But as it stands, she's just too far behind Sinclair to ever catch up. Sinclair had about 132 goals to her name at the same age as Little. However, the Scottish record of 116 set by Julie Fleeting might still be in range. Not a bad record to hold in it’s own right.

Out of all the players on this list, Sam Kerr might benefit most from having league goals count toward her performance. The greatest goalscorer that the NWSL has even seen, Kerr has notched 148 club level goals since 2008 in 219 matches. In roughly the same time frame she has only scored 38 goals in 83 matches for Australia. Still good, but nowhere close to the same number or ratio.

Kerr is only 26 years old so her goalscoring rate might shoot up as she and Australia mature into themselves. But at the same time at at roughly the same age Sinclair had 95 goals compared to Kerr's 38. For now scoring a goal every 2.18 games wouldn’t get her the record until well into her 40’s.

Alexandra Popp is deadly in when she strikes a ball. She leads the current version of the German team in goals, with 20 more than Dzsenifer Marozsán. But while the Germans did win the gold in the 2016 Olympics, these days they're in a bit more of a rebuilding phase, hoping to reignite the success they had in the middle of the 2000s.

Popp is currently 28 years and 10 months, at roughly the same age Sinclair had 134 goals to her name. Nearly three times more than Popp currently has.

Eugénie Le Sommer shares something in common with Sam Kerr. Their club totals overshadow their national team tallies. Le Sommer has netted 163 goals in 175 games since 2010 for powerhouse Lyon. Another 33 goals in 63 appearances came when she played three seasons for Stade Briochin.

Le Sommer is undoubtably one of the very best attacking players in the world. But while she had netted 80 goals by 30, Sinclair had 144 in roughly the same time frame. Another 12 years of a goal every two games is a tall order to ask someone who just hit 30.

Pernille Harder is the first player on this list with a games per goal ratio under 2.0. Still, her 1.95 rate almost certainly won't be enough. Harder is almost a lock to break the Danish Women’s National Team record of 65 goals set by Merete Pedersen, but she simply isn't likely to get enough games to ever challenge Sinclair.

As I said in the introduction, my math assumes 19 international matches a year. But Denmark played just 11 in 2019. Part of that is because they weren’t included in the 2019 World Cup. But that's the issue with Harder. She's a world class player but the squad around her might not give her the chances she'd need. For comparison at roughly the same age Sinclair had about 100 goals, 40 or so more than Harder.

The all time scoring record is an individual record but no individual can overcome her country not choosing to play enough games during her peak years, or playing in a tough federation that limits chances.

Lea Schüller is both the youngest player on this list and the least proven. With just 19 caps for the German Women’s National Team, there is no real telling if she’ll end up as a mainstay on the team for the projected 18 years she would need to.

But Schüller being the youngest on the list does mean she has maybe the best chance of shaving her 1.90 games per goals down to closer to the 1.57 that Sinclair sports. Thought at 22 Sinclair had gotten to the 50 goal mark already.

Time will tell if Schüller will stay in the mix for Germany and if her goal scoring will pick up. But she is full of promise.

If I’m being honest the first seven players listed here have relatively small chances of taking the all time record. Of course, if you had looked at Sinclair in 2005 or 2006, you might have said the same about her. But it's hard to guess that anyone else will match her consistency.

Marta, though, is the first player I've discussed with a real shot of breaking the record. But that's still a big ask. To get there, she would have to spend the next six years continuing to score a goal every 1.41 games, matching the productivity of her best years into her late 30's. Being 60 goals behind Sinclair at about the same age doesn't bode well for her either.

With a different federation, she might be on the inside track already. But Brazil has rarely done enough to support their team. So even with an exciting new crop of talent, and a proven coach like Pia Sundhage, it probably won't be enough. As Marta said herself, “there will not always be a Marta."

Being the starting center forward on the best team in the world is nice. It's even nicer if you play in one of the less competitive confederations. For Alex Morgan, that's meant a massive amount of goals.

Currently tied with Marta at number eight on the all-time list, Morgan has shown that she is ruthless and willing to put her body in risk to score. Her 107 goals are only 40 off of where Sinclair was at the same age. One of the closer we've seen.

But there are downsides to playing on the best team in the world. If you take some time away--as Morgan is currently doing while she prepares to welcome her first child sometime this spring--there are other players ready, willing and able to take your place. We don’t know if Morgan will be the same when she comes back, something that’s true whenever a player misses a large bit of time. We also don’t know what the team will be like when she is ready to rejoin.

But doubting Alex Morgan at the international level has never gone well for anyone.