Christine Sinclair helped women's soccer take a big step forward this year.
She helped lead the Portland Thorns to the first National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) championship, as she and the team set a standard for attendance and fan loyalty throughout the league. One of the greatest strikers in the history of the game, the 5-foot-9 forward continued to win over devoted soccer fans in the Northwest and her home country of Canada, as they took to cyberspace to name her espnW's Impact 10 Fan Favorite athlete of 2013.
Sinclair won the Fan Favorite award with 30.7 percent of the vote, edging out Abby Wambach (29.9 percent) and Elena Delle Donne (12.7).
A native of British Columbia, Sinclair has been a fixture for Canada Soccer since age 16. An Olympic bronze medalist and two-time NCAA national champion with the University of Portland, Sinclair returned to Oregon this year to help launch the NWSL.
"Obviously, when the NWSL started and I found out there was going to be a team in Portland, it was the only place I wanted to play, with my ties there," Sinclair told espnW. "The fans there are absolutely insane; best fans in the country. They came out in such huge numbers to support our team."
Huge numbers is no overstatement. Portland blew away the rest of the league in attendance, drawing over 13,000 fans per game.
"It was nice to bring home a championship for [Portland's fans]," Sinclair said. "Hopefully it's a sign of things to come, that the league can continue to grow and stick around for a while. ... I've spent a lot of time in Portland, through university. No matter what, the fans will be there to support you, and no matter what, I expect [attendance] to grow."
While Sinclair is used to tremendous support on the local and national level, she was nonetheless shocked to see her fans put together an online campaign aimed at helping her win the espnW Impact 10 Fan Favorite vote.
"It's actually very surprising," she said of the voting. "Both the fans in Portland and the fans across Canada are the ones that made this happen. It's nice to see soccer at the top of the list, with myself and Abby [Wambach]. It's good to see that. I think the sport is changing and becoming more and more popular within North America."
Sinclair was honored just to be recognized alongside Wambach, Portland teammate Alex Morgan, WNBA star Maya Moore, Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin and other tremendous female athletes.
"Obviously, it's an incredible honor to be associated with these people," she said. "You look at Abby and Alex, obviously I know them very well just from playing with them and against them. They're tremendous soccer players and they're tremendous people."
Never satisfied, Sinclair is already focused on bringing a second straight championship to the Thorns.
"[In 2014], I'll be trying to bring another championship to Portland," she said. "And at the same time, I'll be preparing with the Canadian national team for the World Cup, which will be in Canada in 2015. It's going to be a busy year!"
And what better way to start it off than by winning espnW's Impact 10 Fan Favorite vote?