Utah Royals tie Orlando Pride to start inaugural season

Orlando Pride Marta during the Orlando Pride vs Utah Royals NWSL match Saturday, March 24, 2018, at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, Fla. (Justin Green/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

It took less than three minutes of play for Utah Royals FC to score the first goal in club history.

Royals attacking midfielder Gunhildur Jonsdottir beat the Orlando Pride’s Dani Weatherholt to a ball over the top of the back line, and with a sliding finish, tapped it in at the near post.

A controversial penalty call upended the Royals’ lead, but the Utah side still came away with a 1-1 draw at Orlando in the Royals’ inaugural NWSL match Saturday.

Royals midfielder Diana Matheson, in her first NWSL match back since missing all of last season with a torn ACL, set Jonsdottir up for the goal.

From the right side of the field, Matheson took two touches back toward her own goal, and then cut back, arching a long ball right in front of the goal.

“All I could do was finish it,” Jonsdottir said on the KMYU halftime show.

The Pride’s equalizer came on a penalty awarded for a handball committed by Royals captain Becky Sauerbrunn in the box in the 19th minute. Only, the ball didn’t hit her in the arm at all. It nailed her in the face.

Sauerbrunn followed Weatherholt into the box, positioning herself between the Orlando midfielder and the goal. Weatherholt volleyed a shot into Sauerbrunn’s face, knocking the center back to the ground. As Sauerbrunn’s head turned, her left arm flew up, which likely sparked the handball call.

The center official met with the assistant referees to discuss the play, but the call stood. Sauerbrunn pleaded her case, pointing to the rapidly reddening ball mark on her cheek and nose. But after both sides had lined up outside the box for the penalty kick, she was shown a yellow card for the handball.

Orlando forward Marta lined the PK past a diving Abby Smith.

The Royals were able to keep the potent attacking trio of Marta, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux at bay for the rest of the match. Morgan left the field just before halftime after a hard collision with Smith. She did not return in the second half.

Jonsdottir had one last chance to claim the win for the Royals in the fifth minute of stoppage time, but her shot went just over the crossbar.