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."
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup