The clock read two minutes and 15 seconds in Utah Royals FC’s inaugural match against the Orlando Pride on Saturday when Gunnhildur Yrsa Jónsdóttir – or simply Gunny to her friends and fans – etched her name into the club’s lore when she scored the first goal in club history.
The Icelandic midfielder with a reputation for fearlessness and a smile that implies that there is a method to her madness is a fitting personality to be among those carrying the torch for Royals FC in the buildup to the historic first home match on April 14 at Rio Tinto Stadium against the Chicago Red Stars.
She is proud of her family and heritage, daring and courageous on the field and deftly aware of the impact she can have on young girls – whether they strive to be soccer players or pursue other passions.
While many of those traits can be traced back to a close-knit Icelandic community that encourages personal expression and self-belief, a part of it is also reflective of a chance meeting on the soccer field when Jónsdóttir was living in America during her youth. Upon meeting Margret Olafsdottir, an Icelandic player who starred for the Philadelphia Charge in WUSA, her countrywoman offered her tickets to the next match. A simple gesture in a passing moment for a professional soccer player secured in Gunny’s mind that she, too, wanted to commit herself to the game.
“I felt so special,” she beamed. “I remember that moment thinking ‘This is something I want to do.’”
Jónsdóttir lived in Hartford, Connecticut and Philadelphia from 1996-2002 and returned stateside for a semester at Pepperdine University in 2010, but never envisioned that she would make a return to the U.S. to play professionally. Even when Michelle Betos, her teammate with Valerenga in Norway last season who is currently in her second stint with the Seattle Reign, tried to convince her that NWSL would be a good option for her, she was skeptical.
It wasn’t until Royals FC Head Coach Laura Harvey called her shortly after being named to the post in December did she begin to consider it. Just 40 minutes after the phone rang with Harvey’s English accent and unrelenting sales pitch on the other end of the line, Jónsdóttir had made up her mind. She would be a Royal.
“When you know you know. I felt it was the right from the moment I talked to Laura. I’ve always had a hard time making these decisions because they are big decisions. And I’ve never made a decision so quickly. I just felt like this was the place I was supposed to be,” she said.
Harvey’s pitch wasn’t just smoke and mirrors though.
The two-time NWSL Coach of the Year had a reputation to back up her claims and upon her arrival in Utah, Jónsdottir saw that her new coach made no false claims.
“She explained how she wanted to play, what she wanted to build her team around, what kind of environment she wanted to build. She talked about the facility and what the Utah Royals were going for from the start,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be a part of that.”
After a short preseason, URFC took the field for the inaugural match last week, many of the teammates having yet to play more than 45 minutes together, if at all. However, the fighting spirit of the team endured to hold on for the 1-1 draw with 2017 NWSL Playoff semifinalists Orlando Pride.
Jónsdóttir looked around the field at her teammates and was reminded of the communal environment she saw in her home country throughout her life.
Seeing similar support in her brief time in Salt Lake City also makes her want to repay the fans with effort on the field.
“That’s a wonderful thing to be a part of – having teammates that you know have your back and you’ll have their back … it’s a great team environment,” she said. “I’ve felt the support from the community since the day I came in here. That has made this transition to the league and to America so much easier for me. I hope what we can do for the community will be amazing. It’s a new feeling. It’s sometimes hard to get the support as much as we’ve gotten it here. Salt Lake City and all of Utah should be proud of everything they’ve put out there. We will always give 110% to make them field proud.”
Like her seemingly limitless passion and expressiveness on the field that sometimes belie her admittedly shy nature off of it, Jónsdóttir sprots a tattoo on her left arm of a woman’s face beneath a lion headdress. It’s one of many tattoos that color her body, but seems to embody her personality as much as any.
She is a fierce hunter in things she is passionate about – whether soccer, fitness and adventure or reading and music. She is also the innocent, doe-eyed girl looking at a hero with awe when Olafsdóttir extended an uncommon courtesy and motivating gesture.
“I’m very outgoing and energetic with a bit of a crazy side and fearless. That’s my outside, which is represented by the lion. Deep down inside I’m a little more than that,” she explained. “It just represents me. It’s the two different sides of me and the side that’s inside the lion, not a lot of people get to know.”
In scoring the first goal in club history, she quickly imprinter her image on the minds of aspiring young players in Utah. In striving for self-expression in all aspects of her life, she provides a role model that can set an example of the combined sum of fearlessness, pride, expression and dedication. Just like Olafsdóttir had done for her in her childhood, she and her Utah Royals FC teammates hope to be an inspiration to young girls and women in the community.
“If I could only have one moment I would be happy for any child. But I do this for those kinds of moments. To show younger girls that this is possible,” she said. “I want us – me and as a team – to show the young girls in this community that they can go out and do whatever they want. They can dream big in soccer or anything in life and it is achievable. I hope we can show that and show how powerful girls can be.”
The Royals face the Houston Dash on Friday and will return to Utah for the inaugural home opener on April 14 at Rio Tinto Stadium. Tickets are available by calling 844-REAL-TIX (844-732-5849).