26 episodes

In 2019, U.S. women’s national soccer team striker Jessica McDonald capped a World Cup journey few could have imagined. A teen runaway who became a single mom, McDonald tells The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer for the first time how she rose from a broken home in Phoenix to the pinnacle of sports in Lyon, France — and how today, she’s using her voice to battle systemic inequalities in soccer, including as part of the U.S. women’s national team’s recent settlement in their landmark fight for equal pay. Hosted by Alex Andrejev. 

Longshot: Payback iHeartPodcasts

    • Sports
    • 4.2 • 192 Ratings

In 2019, U.S. women’s national soccer team striker Jessica McDonald capped a World Cup journey few could have imagined. A teen runaway who became a single mom, McDonald tells The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer for the first time how she rose from a broken home in Phoenix to the pinnacle of sports in Lyon, France — and how today, she’s using her voice to battle systemic inequalities in soccer, including as part of the U.S. women’s national team’s recent settlement in their landmark fight for equal pay. Hosted by Alex Andrejev. 

    Part 1: The Roach Motel

    Part 1: The Roach Motel

    The 2019 World Cup-champion U.S. Women’s National Team was arguably the most dominant team ever fielded by the most dominant institution in soccer. But striker Jessica McDonald remembers that for many people, what that team represented off the field was more important than what it accomplished on it, as fans around the world rallied behind the players’ public battle for equal pay. Legends of the women's game — including Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers and Joy Fawcett — look back at the early days of the USWNT, and a gritty fight for equality that had been unfolding behind the scenes for decades.

    New episodes coming each Tuesday, through May 17.

    To continue supporting journalism like this, visit charlotteobserver.com/payback or newsobserver.com/payback . 

    The host of Payback is Alex Andrejev. It's produced by Kata Stevens, Casey Toth, Julia Wall, and executive producer Davin Coburn. The executive producer for iHeartRadio is Sean Titone.
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 34 min
    Part 2: A Coping Mechanism

    Part 2: A Coping Mechanism

    A child of a broken home, McDonald finds her calling — and her refuge — on the playing field. She grows up competing against her brother, cousins and other boys in the neighborhood, and no matter what the sport — basketball, volleyball, football, track — as the child of two talented athletes, McDonald can do it all. But she now shares for the first time how deceiving appearances could be: McDonald’s early athletic prowess hides from the public a childhood of shattered dreams, the ravages of drug abuse, and the abandonment of her father’s imprisonment.

    New episodes coming each Tuesday, through May 17.

    To continue supporting journalism like this, visit charlotteobserver.com/payback or newsobserver.com/payback . 

    The host of Payback is Alex Andrejev. It's produced by Kata Stevens, Casey Toth, Julia Wall, and executive producer Davin Coburn. The executive producer for iHeartRadio is Sean Titone.
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 26 min
    Part 3: The Safe Place

    Part 3: The Safe Place

    Throughout Jessica McDonald's tumultous childhood, there was one person she could always turn to: her grandmother Abbie, who becomes McDonald's biggest cheerleader. McDonald becomes a superstar for multiple Cactus High School sports teams, but the Sereno Soccer Club she plays for after school is where she truly stands out. And as McDonald leads Sereno to multiple state titles, she catches the eye of legendary University of North Carolina women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance. Suddenly, soccer is more than a distraction; it becomes an escape from Phoenix entirely.

    New episodes coming each Tuesday, through May 17.

    To continue supporting journalism like this, visit charlotteobserver.com/payback or newsobserver.com/payback . 

    The host of Payback is Alex Andrejev. It's produced by Kata Stevens, Casey Toth, Julia Wall, and executive producer Davin Coburn. The executive producer for iHeartRadio is Sean Titone.
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 29 min
    Part 4: Tough as Nails

    Part 4: Tough as Nails

    Following the fateful encounter with her mother, Jessica McDonald runs away from home. Soon, her grades flounder, leaving her ineligible for Division I athletics at all. McDonald's road to Chapel Hill detours through a nearby junior college in Phoenix, where she improves her GPA — and rewrites the juco record books as the most decorated female athlete in Phoenix College history. Then, upon becoming Division I eligible in 2008, Anson Dorrance comes calling once more.

    New episodes coming each Tuesday, through May 17.

    To continue supporting journalism like this, visit charlotteobserver.com/payback or newsobserver.com/payback . 

    The host of Payback is Alex Andrejev. It's produced by Kata Stevens, Casey Toth, Julia Wall, and executive producer Davin Coburn. The executive producer for iHeartRadio is Sean Titone.
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 34 min
    Part 5: The Tiny Prophet

    Part 5: The Tiny Prophet

    In 2010, Jessica McDonald is drafted by the Chicago Red Stars of WPS, the women’s professional soccer league. The WPS acts as a feeder system for the larger U.S. national team, and McDonald is poised to become the fresh blood the USWNT needs. But in her first pro start, McDonald tears the patellar tendon in her left knee. The best-case prognosis: an 18-month-long recovery. Worst-case? Her soccer career is over. Then, during rehabilitation, perhaps the biggest surprise of the 23-year-old McDonald's life: an unplanned pregnancy.

    New episodes coming each Tuesday, through May 17.

    To continue supporting journalism like this, visit charlotteobserver.com/payback or newsobserver.com/payback . 

    Payback is hosted by Alex Andrejev. It's produced by Kata Stevens, Casey Toth, Julia Wall, and executive producer Davin Coburn. The executive producer for iHeartRadio is Sean Titone.
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 31 min
    Part 6: Hanging by a Thread

    Part 6: Hanging by a Thread

    Content warning: This episode contains adult language and adult themes, including sexual coercion and emotional abuse. If you or anyone you know is facing these issues, help is available through RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. Visit RAINN.org, or call their hotline: 800-656-HOPE.

    In 2013, Jessica McDonald makes it to the National Women’s Soccer League, the most recent iteration of an American women’s pro league. The NWSL’s low pay is hard on players — particularly for single mothers like McDonald. However, when shocking allegations of abuse expose how misconduct runs rampant in a game perpetually struggling for legitimacy, uneven pay scales are revealed to be just one component of systemic gender inequality in soccer. Yet, as McDonald blocks out off-field issues by focusing on her game, the rest of the league can't help but notice her play.

    Updated April 25 with comment from Paul Riley, and additional thoughts from McDonald.

    New episodes coming each Tuesday, through May 17.

    To continue supporting journalism like this, visit charlotteobserver.com/payback or newsobserver.com/payback .

    Payback is hosted by Alex Andrejev. It's produced by Kata Stevens, Casey Toth, Julia Wall, and executive producer Davin Coburn. The executive producer for iHeartRadio is Sean Titone.
    See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

    • 39 min

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5
192 Ratings

192 Ratings

Rico 2020 ,

Commercial heavy!

Great content. Unfortunate story of a great ball player.
More commercials than any podcast i listen to! Gets old quick.

feedbackguest ,

Season 2

Wow ! Thanks so much for sharing this amazing tale.

bwaybabi ,

Local journalism lives on!

Excellent journalism from local newsrooms that have significant national resonance! Highly recommend, particularly the most recent season; Payback!

Love to see voices that aren’t normally spotlit getting some national attention!

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