It’s an incredibly challenging time for all athletes, whether their seasons were disrupted midstream or delayed before they could begin their runs.
Spare a thought, relatively-speaking, for the players of the USWNT and National Women’s Soccer League. Women’s soccer is arguably at its peak worldwide, but their leagues have to rest on its laurels with the knowledge that their brightest players won’t get to shine on the Olympic stage until 2021.
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In the case of the NWSL, Opening Day was supposed to start Saturday but of course has been delayed indefinitely. Jessica McDonald and her NC Courage team would be starting their defense of three-consecutive NWSL Shields and two-straight NWSL Championships.
McDonald, instead, is training with one teammate — fellow USWNT star Abby Dahlkemper — and wondering how much the coronavirus pandemic delay will affect her sport. She knows the league can
She says the league was well set-up for this challenge, as much as it could be, but that she can’t help thinking of the “What ifs?”
“We were kinda on this momentum in the U.S. for women’s soccer,” McDonald told ProSoccerTalk on Friday (listen to the entire conversation here).
“I thought that coming into 2020 we were going to (come in) with a bang in the NWSL as a whole organization. I was pretty excited to see what the fan base was going to be like in comparison to last year. For this to cause this delay during this pandemic, we’ll see what kind of fan base there’s going to be because it’s not going to be what I expected.”
The delay began before the announcement that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo would not take place this summer.
That meant the two-time defending World Cup champions would need to wait even longer to avenge their failure to medal at the 2016 Games in Brazil, the first time the USWNT finished off the podium at the Olympics.
For some players, it could be their only shot to compete at the Olympics. Others, their last. And McDonald admitted to thinking beyond soccer when lamenting her possible chance to hit the Olympic pitch.
“It was devastating to all of us athletes,” she said. “We have people who are thinking about retirement after they are done (with the Olympics). Think about gymnasts. They can only go so far with their age before going into their career fields. It’s insane to be a part. Pushing it back, a lot of us were devastated and disappointed but if it’s to secure our health, so-be-it.”
McDonald’s no stranger to disappointment and delays at the international level. After representing the U.S. at the U-17, U-20, and U-23 levels en route to being drafted No. 2 overall in the 2010 NWS Draft, she tore a patella tendon early in her rookie year and then found out she was pregnant with her son Jeremiah.
She worked at a factory while building back to fitness and didn’t make a full USWNT until 2016.
Suffice it to say that a World Cup celebration in 2019 didn’t seem a possibility.
“Looking back on all of that is mind-blowing,” McDonald said. “I went through the injury. Docs are telling me that physically I won’t be as fast. I wouldn’t measure up to being a full potential athlete. I fully ruptured my patella tendon, found out I was pregnant at the same time.”
“I found my motivation through my kid. Because I’ve been a mom since the NWSL has been the NWSL, day one. Scraping pinnies while trying to juggle motherhood was very challenging. It’s gonna be an inspiring thing for me in the future. I was inspired by him, and I want him to be inspired by me. He’s at an age where he’s going to remember all this. I’m just here to show him how hard your life journey gets some time but if you’re inspired by something, you hold onto that and use that until you reach your goal. Don’t stop until you get there.”
“The two of us are always gonna have that bond. He’s gonna remember that moment and we’re gonna be talking about that in the future. And I cannot wait.”
The celebrations took a turn due to the equal pay law suit the USWNT filed against the federation, and even more so when court documents showed belittling language against the women.
“Obviously we were furious: It was blatantly sexist,” she said. “It was almost like a slap in our face but the bond we have in our team, it is so strong. You saw how powerful this case got. We have people in France, entire stadiums, screaming out equal pay together in a whole other country, here having our backs? This is something historical… It’s so strong and powerful when we do come together, it moves people. We kinda walk with some confidence because we’ve proven ourselves as female athletes. It’s frustrating but we’ll see what the outcome’s gonna be.”
We may have the answer to that before McDonald and the Courage begin their latest title defense, one which will prominently feature the 32-year-old.
“Since we have the core of this team together for five years,” she said. “The advantage is how well we know each others as players and the really cool camaraderie we have in the locker room. It’s one of a kind.”
McDonald is among the more decoated players in the nascent history of the NWSL, having also won the 2016 NWSL Championship with the Western New York Flash before the franchise moved to Cary. She’s scored double-digit goals in three markets, and also had success in a brief stint for Australia’s Melbourne Victory.
We wouldn’t bet against her adding to it. When the NWSL does return, McDonald’s and her crew will be ready to help the league quickly regain any lost ground.
“Everybody’s gonna be fueled up,” she said. “Momentum is gonna skyrocket.”