In today's era of big money sponsorships, corporate rebranding and astronomical franchise fees, the tale of Lansdowne Bhoys serves as a reminder of the small town romance that helped make soccer a global force.
The Yonkers-based club formed in 1997 as a pub team within the confines of its now-shuttered namesake, Lansdowne Bar in the Bronx.
Today, it has built itself into a community club, with multiple senior team tiers and youth affiliations reaching hundreds throughout the Yonkers area.
"Lansdowne isn't just Lansdowne," head coach Austin Friel said. "We have a coaching academy as well. We have an affiliation with Yonkers United where we provide coaches for 24 Yonkers teams."
Friel, a 12-year veteran of the Irish leagues and an influential member at the club, brought a foundation of experience and respect that has helped shape the organization. At the heart of the Lansdowne operation is a deep-rooted community, where its focus has drawn the love of famed football announcer Tommy Smyth, whom infamously name-dropped the Bhoys in several high profile matches on ESPN – including last year's encounter between Ireland and England.
Several of Lansdowne's players also perform as coaches with Yonkers United. Many also take up day jobs with several construction companies owned by various members of the Lansdowne board, adding an extra layer of unity within the club.
"It's more of a family business," Friel explained. "With all the guys on my board, they all own their own construction companies or work for large construction companies in Manhattan and a lot of our guys work for these companies."
Emerald Tile and Marble is the team's main sponsor, which is owned by club Vice President, Aiden Corr. Several Lansdowne Bhoys work under Corr’s tile company, which enticed standout players to hone their skills on the pitch with the option of a respectable day job to supplement their income.
"About six to seven years ago, we sort of moved up a few divisions, getting better players from Ireland and Irish American players from the likes of Columbia College," Friel explained. "Aiden Corr has been at the club for 12 years as a player. He decided to take them to the next level. He put together a board and brought on William McGrory as President. Aiden is Vice President and he bought on people to develop the club and make it better."
We will respect any team but we won't fear anyone. We have talent on this squad and many of my guys can play in the USL on any team. - Lansdowne Bhoys head coach Austin Friel
Corr leaned on the experience of Friel to bring in veteran players, and keeping to the club's Irish roots, Freil enticed talent like Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly to join.
"Roche was one of my first signings and I was happy to sign him," Friel said. "Stephen is a main influence in making our side stronger. Fair play to him, he came aboard and has been a vital part of our squad the past few years."
Since leaving former USL side F.C. New York in 2011, Roche has called the United States home. He serves as Director of Youth Development with Massapequa FC and has played for several local clubs, including the Greek Pancyprians.
But when the opportunity came to sign with Lansdowne, he jumped at the chance.
"It doesn't matter what level you are in, you want to be able to compete at a professional level," Roche said. "I knew Lansdowne were competitive and would be challenging for the league every year. That helps.
"Austin is brilliant," Roche continued. "He gets players to play that shouldn't be playing at this level. We have six or seven players that should be playing pro today in my opinion."
One of those players is vice-captain, Sean Kelly. A former Arsenal youth product and Irish U-23 player, Kelly suffered a major injury in his early playing career, breaking his shin in three places. However, he has found new life with Lansdowne, contributing to the club's continued ascension.
"Contracts back in Ireland only run 40-42 weeks out of the year. The season ends in winter. You don't know where you lay when it's all said and done," Kelly explained. "This is more stable here."
All of these building blocks have led the Bhoys to their first jaunt through the U.S. Open Cup. In what Friel acknowledged as "an upset," Lansdowne beat the established and recognized Long Island Rough Riders (PDL) in the First Round of this year’s Open Cup competition.
It was just the latest achievement for the defending, two-time Cosmopolitan League Champions, who continue to aim high in the building of their community-based club.
"You want to be in the best competitions," Friel acknowledged. "The aim for the club is eventually in the next three years going to the USL. That is why we are starting from the youth up. That is the aim."
Until then, they have their focus on their first professional competition of the tournament against USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
"We will respect any team but we won't fear anyone," Friel said. "We have talent on this squad and many of my guys can play in the USL on any team.
"It's been a new adventure for the club and myself. I was quite happy to get the victory [against the Rough Riders] and am looking forward to pitting ourselves against a professional outfit on Wednesday."
Friel warns – don't count the Bhoys out.
"You never know," he said. "Pro football is strange. You never know what can happen."
Despite being North American neighbors, the first meeting between the United States and Mexico actually took place on the other side of the Atlantic. Played on May 24, 1934 in Rome, the game was a one-off match – essentially the USA’s first World Cup qualifier – for the right to play in the second FIFA World Cup, which was set to kick off days later in venues across Italy.
Playing in front of 10,000 spectators, including Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, the Americans rode a four-goal performance from Aldo “Buff” Donelli to defeat Mexico 4-2 and earn a place in the 16-team field at the 1934 FIFA World Cup.
You would hope the 11 players that came away victorious that day cherished the memory in Rome, because as big as the result was, it would take another 46 years before the USA would defeat Mexico again.
Though 17 of those 24 matches were played on Mexican soil, that winless streak against our neighbors to the south is by far the longest against any one opponent in team history, both in terms of number of games and years,. It fortunately ended on Nov. 23, 1980, when the U.S. used a pair of goals from Steve Moyers to defeat Mexico 2-1 in another Qualifying match, this time for the 1982 FIFA World Cup.
With Mexico already booking its ticket to the next round of Qualifying and the USA already eliminated, from a competitive standpoint, the match was meaningless. However, whether or not they realized it, the 2,126 fans in attendance at Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium witnessed history that night, and to this day are among the few Americans that saw the USA’s 43-year winless streak against Mexico come to an end.
Though the USA and Mexico met only once more during the decade, the dam had been cracked. With 1990 marking the MNT’s first appearance in the World Cup in 40 years, the 1980s also served as a transitional phase in the rivalry with Mexico as a new generation of American players began to reap the benefits of greater emphasis on the game here at home to lay the foundation for future triumphs.
The first in a series of successes came during the semifinals of the 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Led by former Mexico head coach Bora Milutinovic, the USA used second-half strikes from John Doyle and Peter Vermes to stun El Tri 2-0 in front of a pro-Mexico crowd of 41,103 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and went on to win the tournament’s inaugural title.
WATCH: USA Defeats Mexico 2-0 in 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup SemifinalRead more