The Canadian team, and its followers, learned a few things at this year's women's Olympic qualifying tournament. But there were a number of other long-time truths of which we just received reminders.
One: Christine Sinclair is a phenomenal talent, the greatest soccer player this country has ever produced. Two: Canada is utterly, and worryingly, reliant upon her for its goal-scoring.
She scored nine of Canada's 16 goals in the tournament, bringing her lifetime total to 129. Second on the active all-time list? Thirty-year-old Melissa Tancredi, with 16. Not exactly nipping at her heels.
So just who is going to pick up the slack on the occasions when Sinclair is well-defended, less-than-100%, injured or -- eventually -- retired? And that's not a rhetorical question. Canada will need actual, live women to score those goals. Here are a few who might be up to the task.
Jonelle Filigno. At 21, she already has eight goals in 41 appearances for the senior team, and has been one of the program's most highly-touted stars for years. She missed the Olympic qualifying tournament with an ankle injury, but has experience at the highest level, having started all three of Canada's games at the 2011 Women's World Cup. Presuming there are no complications with her recovery, expect Filigno (pictured) to be on the roster at the Olympics this summer.
Christina Julien. The 23-year-old has been in fine goal-scoring form in the last several months, having scored the bulk of her 10 career goals for the senior team since the 2011 Pan Am Games. While her finishing could have been more clinical during the Olympic qualifying tournament, it would appear she is a big part of the team's plans for the future.
Chelsea Buckland. The 22-year-old from North Delta, B.C. burst onto the scene in 2011, earning a surprise invite to pre-World Cup training camp despite never having represented Canada's youth teams. While she missed the final cut for the World Cup roster, the leading goal-getter at Oregon State scored her first international goal for Canada in a friendly last November, and made several appearances during the Olympic qualifying tournament.
Amelia Pietrangelo. The 18-year-old has already made six appearances for the senior team, scoring her first goal during the 2011 Pan Am Games at the age of 17. The reigning Canadian U-20 player of the year currently attends Rutgers University and plays for the Comètes de Laval in the USL's W-League. She'll also be traveling with the Canadian U-20 side to Panama in February to compete in the qualifying tournament for the U-20 Women's World Cup.
Josee Belanger. Another striker for a Quebec-based W-League side is Belanger, a 25-year-old who hasn't been part of the national-team setup for the better part of 15 months. While she's a few years older than the other players mentioned here, she has a notably good strike rate for the senior national team (five goals in 11 appearances) and impressed many fans with her performances in qualifying for the 2011 World Cup.
Christine Exeter. After being a multi-sport star in high school in Pickering, Ont., the 19-year-old moved on the University of Louisville, where she led the team in goals and was named Big East rookie of the year in 2010. Despite not yet having earned her first cap for the senior women's national team, the CSA's website gives away the fact that she's on the squad's radar.
Nkem Ezurike. The 19-year-old from Lower Sackville, N.S. scored twice for Canada at the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in 2008. She also has had an impressive first two seasons at the University of Michigan, with 20 goals in 36 appearances.
Christabel Oduro. A member of the Canadian women's U-20 team, Oduro has been a top scorer for the University of Memphis, including bagging four goals in one game last November. As a bonus, she can turn a phrase: "We didn't just get the NCAA monkey off our back, we threw it off our back," she said following her four-goal outburst. A talker who can score goals in bunches? Sounds good to me.
Jenna Richardson. The 19-year-old Vancouver Whitecap will be joining Pietrangelo, Exeter and Oduro on the road to the U-20 Women's World Cup. She'll be bringing with her a good strike rate for Oregon State in the last two years (17 goals in 38 appearances) and several accolades, including Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in 2010. She's also (presumably) carrying with her some familiarity and camaraderie with fellow B.C.-born teammates Buckland (at OSU) and Shannon Woeller (at Vancouver).
Adriana Leon. She made headlines in 2010, scoring the winning goal as a freshman for Notre Dame in the NCAA national championship game. She got some recognition in voting for the 2011 U-20 players of the year, but there hasn't been much word on her as of late (she's not on the roster for the upcoming U-20 tournament). But hey, check out these sweet moves!
This is, of course, a partial list. If I've overlooked someone (probable), let me know in the comments below. And in all fairness, while some of these players will likely blossom into having productive careers with the Canadian team, we're not going to see another player of Sinclair's quality for a very long time.
Or will we?