Herriman • Craig Harrington told Utah Royals FC rookie forward Tziarra King during warmups that she would be the spark off the bench. And boy, was she ever.

King scored the final goal of the match in the 89th minute to secure a 3-3 draw for the Royals against the Houston Dash on Tuesday in Utah’s opening game of the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup. She played just two official minutes, plus the six that were added for stoppage time.

“I’m glad I could step up into that role that they wanted me to be,” King said.

King was picked eighth overall in the 2020 NWSL College Draft and has already become a fan favorite, especially online. Upon news that Harrington was likely to give her some run, fans flooded Twitter with support, including some potential nicknames for their fandom.

King’s contribution, while brief, was important for the Royals, who fell behind 3-1 to the Dash with about 20 minutes left in the game. Midfielder Veronica Boquete scored on a free kick from must 18 yards away in the 82nd minute, which set up an opportunity for Utah to equalize.

King got the chance on a long free kick that bounced in front of her in the box. She headed the ball into the net, robbing Houston of three points that seemed inevitable not long before.

“We’re so jazzed for her right now,” Harrington said of King. “It’s really exciting. You can see what she did when she came on, the quality she possesses.”

Harrington added that King looked fatigued at the end of the game, so she probably won’t be playing 90 minutes anytime soon.

Utah scored first in the 35th minute. Houston took over offensively from there, taking the lead just two minutes into the second half.

Midfielder Diana Matheson, who played her first game since the 2018 season, scored for the Royals with the help of forward Amy Rodriguez’s assist. Boquete was credited for an assist on King’s goal.

Rachel Daly netted two goals for the Dash, while Shea Groom finished the third.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Utah Royals FC forward Tziarra King (3) receives a hug from teammate Lo'eau LaBonta after scoring against the Houston Dash during the second half of an NWSL Challenge Cup soccer match at Zions Bank Stadium Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Herriman.

Scoring was going to be a question mark for Utah after Christen Press opted out of the Challenge Cup. While the team wants to build chemistry up top and do it by committee, chances were lacking for much in the team’s first game.

But the fight Utah showed down the stretch, plus the multiple goals, could be signs of good news to come for the tournament’s host team.

“There were some big positives today,” Matheson said. “Three goals. I know we struggled last season scoring goals, so that’s a big one. And just the grit and heart to come back at the end there.”

Boquete gave King a big hug as the two were exchanging spots for postgame interviews. It’s clear she’s popular with her teammates, not just the fans.

And at least for one game, Harrington’s description of King as a “proven goal scorer” is apt. He said he challenged King before the game to stay engaged.

“Hopefully that worked well for her,” Harrington said. “If not, whatever she’s doing, keep doing.”

Before the game, every member of both teams took the field during the national anthem when usually it’s just the starting 11 from each team. Every member of the Royals knelt during the anthem, while the majority of the Dash knelt.

The NWSL gave players the option to either take the field or stay in the locker room during the anthem, but it appeared no player or staff member decided to stay in the locker room.

UTAH ROYALS 3, HOUSTON DASH 3


• Rookie Tziarra King scores equalizing goal in professional debut.
• Utah Royals FC comes back from 3-1 deficit.
• Diana Matheson scores goal after missing entire 2019 season with injury.