Utah Royals midfielder Gunnhildur Jonsdottir flew in the air, her right leg swept out from under her as her calf took the force of Orlando forward Sydney Leroux’s attempted shot.
Unlike the last hard hit she took two minutes prior, Jonsdottir didn’t get up right away. Royals trainer Emily Fortunato rushed onto the field, and as she examined Jonsdottir’s leg she asked if she wanted to leave the game.
“I said, ‘No, that ain’t happening,‘” Jonsdottir recalled this week. “I would play on one foot if that’s what [coach] Laura [Harvey] wants.”
Jonsdottir, the 29-year-old Iceland international, introduced herself to the league with a goal in the third minute of her NWSL debut last weekend, helping the Royals secure a point from a 1-1 draw at Orlando. The NWSL community took notice, voting it goal of the week.
“[I’m] just pleased for her that she’s been able to make a stamp on the league so quickly,” Harvey said. “I think that’s important for all newcomers.”
Some film and one phone conversation with Jonsdottir over the offseason was all it took took for Harvey to know she wanted to bring the hard-nosed midfielder to Utah.
“She’s just nuts,” Harvey said. “I am too, so it’s great. We go well together.”
Jonsdottir never planned on playing professionally in the United States. She worried it was too different from Europe and it would make it more complicated to play for her national team.
Then last season, while playing for Norwegian club Valerenga, she roomed with goalkeeper Michelle Betos. According to Jonsdottir, Betos, who has since returned to the NWSL to play for Seattle, told her the American game would fit her well. By the time Harvey got Jonsdottir on the phone, she has begun to seriously consider the move.
“She plays European football, so that was one of the main things that I liked to hear,” Jonsdottir said. “She also talked about high pressing and being intense, kind of what I am. And then she talked about just the facilities … what kind of coach she is, what kind of environment and team she wants to build, it’s exactly what I want.”
Once in Utah, Jonsdottir established herself as a strong personality on the team.
“After probably two days of knowing Gunny I felt like I knew Gunny,” Royals defender Becca Moros said. “... She’s super charismatic, she’s fun, she’s super hardworking teammate.”
When the Royals entered their locker room for the first time, Jonsdottir pulled the new monogrammed bath robe from her locker over her clothes, folded her arms, and leaned back into a dance.
During one preseason training session in California, midfielder Katie Bowen remembers, Jonsdottir kept tripping over the ball and falling down, so eventually she embraced it and lay in the grass, joking that she’d given up.
“She’s always the life of the party, always smiling,” said Bowen.
Harvey predicted Jonsdottir would be the first to score, and she made good on that prediction within three minutes of the Royals’ inaugural match, sliding ahead of the defender and finished an arching cross from Diana Matheson. For a split second there was silence.
Said Bowen: “I kind of look over at the linesman. Nothing’s been flagged. And then I just put my hands up in the air and start celebrating. So it was pretty surreal.”
Jonsdottir proved Betos right, the American game did suit her.
“Coming here,” Jonsdottir said, “is one of the best decisions of my life.”
UTAH ROYALS AT HOUSTON DASH
When • 6 p.m. MT Friday