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KEVIN BAXTER / ON SOCCER

Christine Sinclair conspicuously missing from FIFA awards shortlist

The elite Canadian soccer player should have been included in Monday's gala in Zurich, where men and women players and coach of the year will be honored.

January 05, 2013|By Kevin Baxter
  • Christine Sinclair celebrates after scoring a goal for Canada in the London Olympics.
Christine Sinclair celebrates after scoring a goal for Canada in the London… (Quinn Rooney / Getty Images )

FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, is throwing a huge gala Monday in Zurich, where it will announce the men's and women's players of the year for 2012.

But with FIFA following a well-worn script, what should be a time for celebration will again be clouded in controversy because a player who could arguably win the women's award won't even be there.

Christine Sinclair, without question the most underrated elite player in the world, has been overlooked again. Consider that last year she accounted for more than half her team's goals while captaining Canada to an Olympic bronze medal, her country's first medal in a traditional Summer Games' team sport since 1936.

Or that in the London Games, Sinclair scored three go-ahead goals against U.S. keeper Hope Solo in a span of 51 minutes — the first time Solo allowed that many goals to a team, much less one player, in 11 years. And with a career-best 23 goals in 22 games last year — including a tournament-high six in London —Sinclair is third on the all-time scoring list with 143 goals in 190 international caps, trailing only Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach of the U.S.

How is it possible that such a performance doesn't even merit an invitation to dinner — even if the banquet is certain to be a toast to the brilliance of the two U.S. finalists, Wambach and Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan? One of those players is likely to become the first American to win the award since Hamm in 2002.

One explanation for Sinclair's snub centers on the events that followed Canada's Olympic semifinal with the U.S. After Canada lost on a goal in the waning seconds of overtime — a result set up by a pair of controversial calls from FIFA referee Christina Pedersen of Norway — Sinclair offered an emotional and blistering review of Pedersen's performance, earning a four-game suspension from FIFA for "unsporting behavior."

Six weeks later, when FIFA announced the three finalists for its player-of-the-year award, Sinclair's name was nowhere to be found.

Did FIFA influence the vote because of Sinclair's summer meltdown? That's unlikely, especially since she was on the 10-player shortlist sent to national team coaches, captains and select journalists, whose voting pared the list to three finalists.

While it's possible Sinclair's tirade influenced voters — who were told to consider "sporting performance and general conduct both on and off the pitch" — ignorance of the women's game is a more likely excuse. For voters without a clue, it would be an easy choice to pick Brazil's Marta, a five-time winner of the award and a finalist four other times, over Sinclair.

It just wouldn't be the right choice.

But Sinclair's brilliance hasn't been lost on her peers. Wambach calls the Canadian "the best all-round player in the world," and Marta says if she had a vote she'd cast it for Sinclair.

As for the men's award, Argentina's Lionel Messi will also certainly win for a record fourth consecutive time. And if there were any doubt, Messi got a big help from FIFA's voting procedure. Although few of the world's elite leagues start and end a season in the same calendar year — Major League Soccer in the U.S. and Mexico's Primera Division are among the exceptions — FIFA's award specifically recognizes performances from January to December.

And Messi's numbers — a record 91 goals for Barcelona and the Argentine national team during 2012, — dwarf those of the two other finalists, Barca teammate Andres Iniesta and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.

The women's-coach-of-the-year voting should be equally as one-sided in favor of Pia Sundhage, who ended her five-year run with the U.S. women's team by winning her second Olympic title.

However, it's almost impossible to choose among the three coaches nominated for the men's award — Spanish national team coach Vicente Del Bosque, former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola and Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho. All three are worthy of the prize.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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