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 Monday, 24 hours before their 2018 World Cup Qualifying match against Panama, the U.S. Men’s National Team went through their final preparations inside Estadio Rommel Fernández in Panama City.
Built in 1970, the stadium was originally named Estadio Revolución but the name was changed in 1993 in honor of Rommel Fernandez, a Panamanian footballer that tragically died in a car accident in Spain in May of that year.
Remodeled in 2009 and now with more than 30,000 seats, the stadium is the largest in Panama and will undoubtedly be packed to the brim on Tuesday night.
Before the chaos, U.S. Soccer asked team photographer John Dorton to provide fans back home in the United States with a unique look at the historic venue.
Check out Dorton’s personal photographic tour.Read more