Before she was Jessica McDonald, U.S. women’s national soccer team striker and World Cup Champion, she was a teen runaway and single mother from a broken home. Her story is nothing short of remarkable, and her ambition even more so.
On “Longshot: Payback,” lead soccer writer Alex Andrejev at The Charlotte Observer in North Carolina, where McDonald became a sports sensation in university, follows her journey to the pinnacle of sports and the battle for equal pay in U.S. soccer.
“Longshot: Payback” is a new podcast from The Charlotte Observer, Raleigh News & Observer, McClatchy Studios, and iHeartRadio. This podcast comes from the studios that brought us “Longshot: Return Man” about NFL player Jim Duncan and his mysterious death inside of his hometown police station. The season will be around 10 episodes long, and episodes so far have been averaging out to just 40 minutes.
In 2019, Jessica McDonald and the United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT) were crowned world champions in Lyon, France after defeating the formidable Netherlands women’s team 2-0 in the FIFA Women’s World Cup championship game. But that win meant more off the field than it ever did on it.
As members of the USWNT made snow angels in confetti at their ticker tape in New York City, fans around them chanted, “equal pay, equal pay!” Their World Cup win, the team’s 4th, brought forth the team’s behind-the-scenes battle with its own parent organization, the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Host Alex Andrejev tells us that she has been reporting on sport at a crossroad. What began as a podcast about women’s soccer players fighting for equal pay to that of their male counterparts, became an investigation into how so many different components prevented change in a sport that’s fought decades for its legitimacy.
She speaks with current players from across all levels of soccer in the United States and legends from the game’s past. People like Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy, and Joy Fawcett chat about the beginnings of the USWNT and the many many criticisms they faced. Alex speaks with families and friends of soccer legends and even sits down for a one-on-one conversation with the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation who was responsible for settling the players’ groundbreaking lawsuit for equal pay.
They discuss fighting for daycare services for national players and other pregnancy protections, spreading the word about their new league and their games, and fighting accusations that no one watched women’s soccer. She goes behind the scenes to the 1999 Women’s World Cup final that took place in a packed Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
90,000 people watched Brandi Chastain become an icon when she scored the only goal of the game, a penalty kick after 90 minutes of play and 30 minutes of extra time. And at the same time that a new framework for the sport was being laid out, a young girl from Glendale, Arizona was finding her passion.
While players like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan have become household names due to both their success on the field and within their fight for equality, Alex finds that there is no player quite like Jessica McDonald. From her talent to her drive to her incredible journey, she is unique on and off the field.
On “Longshot: Payback,” Jessica tells her story for the first time. She brings us through her long road to the top, from a difficult childhood where she used sports to cope to running away from home at 17 to working through junior college in order to raise her grades to become a Division I player at Chapel Hill.
Even when she found herself a professional soccer player, she has continued to push through. Throughout the 2010s, she was signing just one-year contracts with organizations and often found herself the only mother on many teams she’s played for.
“Longshot: Payback” is her story and how it intersects with women’s fight for equal pay and the shocking revelations that have continued to come out about abuse within women’s soccer.