In sports and in life, consistency portends success. Across the globe, the greatest teams and the greatest players are generally the ones for whom very little changes throughout their careers, with small adjustments preferable to major overhauls. Conversely, franchises mired in mediocrity or worse are typically those that undergo the most constant upheaval and change. But for Jess McDonald, the only consistency in her career has been greatness, drive, and a determination to succeed.
Jessica McDonald was drafted in the second round by the Chicago Red Stars of the WPS in 2010, but did not compete in the 2011 season due to the birth of her son. When the league folded before the 2012 season, McDonald went to Australia where she scored 7 goals in 13 games for the Melbourne Victory. McDonald rejoined her former team when the NWSL started in 2013, but she failed to score a goal during her 9 regular season appearances. In the middle of the season, McDonald was released by the Red Stars and claimed off waivers by the Seattle Reign who were desperate for scoring talent. Jess was able to help them in that category by scoring three goals in seven appearances to close out the year.
The 2014 season was a productive but frustrating one for McDonald. It started out with a trade from the Reign to the Portland Thorns. McDonald started 13 games for the Thorns while Alex Morgan was injured, but upon Morgan’s return was relegated to a bench position. Despite leading the Thorns in scoring with 11 goals, McDonald was traded away by Paul Riley to the expansion Houston Dash. McDonald took the trade in stride, and despite a disappointing season for the Dash, McDonald once again led her team in goals with 7. After leading two consecutive teams in scoring production, it would be reasonable to think that Jess would have cemented herself as one of the premier forwards in the game. Instead, she was traded once again to the Western New York Flash.
You have to sympathize with Jessica McDonald at this point. A player with a young son, someone who had played for four teams in three seasons, a dynamic forward who had led her team in goals for two years running, was on the move to her fifth team. It would have been easy for a lesser spirit to crumble under the frustration of working tirelessly to succeed and being perennially underappreciated, but that isn’t who Jess McDonald is.
In 2016 McDonald took an amazing step forward in a career that was already studded with success. In addition to scoring 10 goals in 20 games, she added 7 assists to her resume. The defining moment of this season came in the closing seconds of the NWSL championship game. Jess took control of the ball on the left flank, turned, and played a perfect pass into the box where fellow forward Lynn Williams headed the ball past the Spirit keeper to send the game to penalty kicks, where the Flash eventually cemented a win. After winning that championship, the Flash were sold to new owners in North Carolina. Though she wouldn’t be finding new teammates, Jess was still on the move.
The 2017 season has brought a final feather to Jess McDonald’s cap. With her goal against the Boston Breakers on Sunday, she surpassed Kim Little as the top scorer in the history of the NWSL, eclipsing even the game’s biggest names. Congratulations, Jess! All of North Carolina salutes you, and we love that you are getting your revenge for all of the years of under-appreciation as one of us.