The way we want to play, she will get opportunities to get in the box. Just pleased for her that she’s been able to make a stamp on the league so quickly. I think that’s important for all newcomers. —Utah Royals coach Laura Harvey on Gunnhildur Jonsdottir
SANDY — Laura Harvey called it.
Before Utah Royals FC was set to play its first-ever match last Saturday on the road against the Orlando Pride, the club’s head coach predicted to some family members that Gunnhildur “Gunny” Jonsdottir would score the squad’s first goal.
Playing in her first NWSL game after coming from Norway, the Icelandic national would have to battle a potentially difficult transition from the European game to the more fast-paced style in America in order for Harvey’s prediction to come true, but she didn’t waste much time making it happen.
In just the third minute, Jonsdottir received a delivery from fellow midfielder Diana Matheson in the box and, sliding, sent it into the net.
The goal not only gave URFC an early lead, but it served as a coming out party of sorts for Jonsdottir. While she might not have the name recognition in the States as some of her teammates like Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara and Amy Rodriguez, Harvey feels Jonsdottir will be a critical piece for the Royals this season as an attacking midfielder.
“The way we want to play, she will get opportunities to get in the box,” Harvey said, noting that whoever has played Jonsdottir’s position in the 4-3-3 for her in the past has typically finished as the team’s leading goal scorer. “Just pleased for her that she’s been able to make a stamp on the league so quickly. I think that’s important for all newcomers.”
Just how much of a stamp did Jonsdottir make on the NWSL as a whole in Week 1? Late Tuesday afternoon, she was declared the winner of the league’s Goal of the Week, as voted on by Twitter users.
“It’s very nice,” Jonsdottir said of making team history as the first player to score, “but it’s definitely a team effort. It was a great goal from the beginning. I got a great ball in from Diana, and all I could do is just finish it. It’s a good feeling.”
But it’s not as if Jonsdottir only did the stuff Saturday that would get the glamour. As the contest progressed, the Pride began to get increasingly physical with the 29-year-old. After one particularly tough encounter late in the match that made Jonsdottir limp, team trainer Emily Fortunato went out onto the field, but Jonsdottir wanted to keep playing and she finished the contest.
“I’m used to it,” she said. That’s just how I am. I’m very physical. (Fortunato) asked if I wanted to go off the field. I said, ‘No, ain’t happenin’.’ I would play on one foot if that’s what Laura wants, so no, I was never going to go off the field. I enjoy playing. I can play through the pain, so it was fun. I’m Icelandic, so I’m a little crazy.”
Described by Matheson as outgoing and gregarious, Jonsdottir said her adjustment to living in the United States is going well, even if it’s not something she envisioned before getting a phone call from Harvey and officially signing Jan. 3.
“I had one phone call with Laura, and that was all I needed,” Jonsdottir said, noting that she finds the way Harvey likes to play appealing. “I just needed one phone call to talk to her, and she sold me it right away and I couldn’t be happier.”
Harvey certainly sees Jonsdottir as someone who plays the game the way she wants it to be played.
“She’s just nuts,” Harvey said. “I am, too, so it’s great. We go well together.”