The US Open Cup qualifying tournament in Florida always brings out strong teams and usually there’s plenty of familiar faces. However, in 2011, only two teams have entered the competition and both of them are first-time entries. Royal Eagles SC will host the Florida Gators, the university’s club team, on Sunday, April 10 at the Lake Myrtle Sports Complex in Auburndale, Fla. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the winner will represent the state at the USASA Region III tournament in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Memorial Day weekend.
Notably absent this year is Lynch’s Irish Pub, a club that has represented Florida, under various names (DS United, Sunrise, Lynch’s FC), every year since 2002. This past offseason, Lynch’s joined the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and changed their name to Jacksonville United FC.
Royal Eagles SC and the Florida Gators club team represent the new blood in the state of Florida, both entering Open Cup qualifying for the first time.
Team manager Panos Iakovidis helped launch the Royal Eagles in 2009 in the Lakeland area, east of Tampa, and during their brief existance, they’ve experienced nothing but success. They were undefeated in Division 3 of the Florida Suncoast Soccer Leagues (FSSL), winning the league and the Florida Classic tournament in their inaugural campaign. The following year, because of their high level of play, the FSSL approved an unprecedented jump from Division 3 to the Premier Division.
“Our success on and off the field gave us the opportunity to play in the Premier Division,” said Iakovidis. “It was the first time the league approved such a jump, and we have not disappointed since.”
After the promotion, the Eagles continued to win, finishing top of the table in the Premier Division with a 10-1-3 record, along with winning their second straight Florida Classic Tournament. They recently fell in the Premier Division Cup final, 2-1 in extra time.
The Eagles are the complete package, leading the FSSL Premier Division in defense, and ranking second in scoring. Their defense is anchored by central defender Jake Howard, last year’s MVP. Jamaican forward Sawneil Samuels is the club’s leading scorer with 14 goals in all competitions. Warner University’s leading scorer Mauricio Castano is also an offensive threat, scoring nine regular season goals for the Eagles.
The club will be without a couple of key players, including this year’s regular season MVP Alvaro Puyo who picked up an injury in the last game of the season. Also, former AFC Wimbledon and Charlton Athletic striker Mark Debolla, who suffered an ACL injury. The England native was an Aston Villa youth academy player in his younger days before bouncing around various teams throughout England.
Currently the Eagles are participating in the Florida State Cup and have reached the final four in the FSSL Cup.
The Florida Gators are, according to TheCup.us records, the first university to submit their club team to participate in USASA’s Open Cup qualifying process. Founded in 1953 by Alan “A.C.” Moore, Florida holds the title as the oldest university club soccer team in the country. Moore coached the club from 1953-1990, earning over 500 wins at UF.
Every year, the Gators are among the best university clubs in the country, consistently competing in national tournaments. Club president Bryan Roberts has big plans for the team going forward, and entering the US Open Cup is just one of them. Raising the profile of the club is among the priorities and the motivation to do that came last year after the club finished runner-up at the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association championships.
“It was a little depressing to come back from just barely losing a national championship and no one on campus knows you even played in a tournament,” said Roberts, who took over as president two years ago. “I want to make us a part of the community here in Gainesville. My long-term vision is to see the club team become the beginning of a varsity team here at UF.”
The club is made up of a wide variety of players, who excel just as much in the classroom as they do on the field. There are players in grad school, law school, medical school, and even a team member who is leaving the club to transfer to Harvard for grad school. The Gators are led by manager Sheldon Cipriani, who is the Director of Coaching at Gainesville Soccer Alliance.
“I decided that I wanted us to find a new opportunity to prove ourselves to find new competition that would test us,” said Roberts. “So, I did a little poking around and figured out how the US Open Cup worked, and was really happy to see how excited the guys were to compete in this. I can’t tell you how many times in the past month I’ve dreamed about how awesome it would be able to host a game at UF against a professional team. This tournament could really provide the excitement and attention that we need to grow the club.”manag
As a University of Maryland alum, Roberts’ dream matchup is against DC United of Major League Soccer.
Past USASA Region III representatives from Florida
2010: Lynch’s Irish Pub / Brazil Soccer Academy (Note: Brazil Soccer Academy qualified as the Copa Latina champion, but didn’t show up at Region III tournament)
2009: Lynch’s Irish Pub
2008: Clearwater Galactics / Lynch’s Irish Pub (Note: Honduras Five Star qualified as the Copa Latina champion, but dropped out. Lynch’s replaced them)
2007: Wolfpack FC / Lynch’s Irish Pub
2006: DS United / Lynch’s Irish Pub
2005: DS United / Miami Tango
2004: DS United / Sunrise & OES
2003: DS United
2002: DS United
2001: Uruguay SC
2000: Uruguay SC
1999: Uruguay SC
1998: No information available
1997: No information available
1996: McCormick Kickers
1995: McCormick Kickers