The third trip to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for Lynch’s FC will mark the end of an era for the club. While the club shows no signs of slowing down, they will be without general manager Robert Apunte, who is hanging up his clipboard after 11 years with the club. During that time, he has helped Lynch’s (under four different names) become one of the top clubs in the state of Florida, and certainly one of the most consistent. In those 11 years, the Lynch’s FC resume includes two USASA Region III championships (2003, 2009) out of their 10 trips to the tournament, seven Beaches Adult Soccer League titles and more Professional Era US Open Cup appearances than any Florida amateur club (3).
While retiring to “spend more time with my family” has become a cliché over the years, Apunte means it. Even with the help of fellow club manager KC Braun, who handles all of Lynch’s behind the scenes work, all of the travel, practices and tournaments, not to mention a full-time job, can really take a toll.
“A club like this is a lot of hard work,” said Apunte, “All the travel, the practices, the tournaments … it can be hard sometimes.”
Apunte moved to New York City from Ecuador as a teenager in 1981. There he joined the Norwegian club Sporting Club Gjoa, a club founded in 1911 and still competes in the famed New York Cosmopolitan League. It was there he was inspired to manage his own club. After spending a year with the Brooklyn Italians, he went off to college and then returned to Ecuador to play soccer. His path led him to Jacksonville, Florida where he settled down, started a family and continues to call it home to this day. What he learned from his experience at SC Gjoa he applied to his management of DS United, and he attributes that education to the club’s current success.
The club was founded in 1999 as DS United and over the last 20 years the club has been known as “Sunrise,” “Lynch’s Irish Pub” and the team’s current name Lynch’s FC In 2003, they qualified for the first time as DS United and lost 4-1 to the Raleigh CASL Elite of the Premier Development League in their opening game. Four years later, they entered the 2006 Open Cup as Lynch’s Irish Pub and met their first professional team, the Charlotte Eagles of USL-2, but lost 2-0 in the First Round.
In this year’s opening round, Lynch’s FC will travel to Ft. Lauderdale to take on Miami FC of the USL First Division in the First Round. The winner will take on the team that emerges from the Charleston Battery (USL-1) and Atlanta FC (USASA – NPSL) match.
This year’s berth in the tournament was a thrilling one for the Jacksonville-based club. Heavy rain and waterlogged fields caused the event to move from Eagle Harbor Soccer Complex in Orange Park, Fla. to a turf field at Fruit Cove Middle School in St. Johns.
After a 2-2 draw in the opening game against the NPSL’s Pumas SC and a forfeit by the Greenwood Wanderers from South Carolina, Lynch’s FC had a big hole to climb out of in the final game against the Baton Rouge Classics. In their previous game, Baton Rouge received three red cards and lost to Pumas SC 5-0. Entering the final group game, Lynch’s and Pumas were tied with four points. Pumas was guaranteed a victory in their final match because they were scheduled to play Greenwood. That meant that not only would Lynch’s have to win, but they would have to top Pumas’ 5-0 result against Baton Rouge in order to advance to the Region III title game and earn a berth in the Open Cup.
Even with Baton Rouge playing without three of their best players, the goal of scoring six looked like an impossible task as the two teams were scoreless at the halftime break. However, it was a 17-year old who would provide the spark they needed off the bench. Tony Kattreh, only a junior in high school, came in as a sub just after halftime and made an immediate impact. He set up the first goal and scored the second to get the Lynch’s offense rolling. Ramak Niakan scored a pair and Pat Cannon also scored to give the club the 5-goal cushion they needed. Kattreh, the soccer and track star at Fletcher High School in Jacksonville, would score the sixth goal in the 89th minute to send Lynch’s to their third US Open Cup.
Kattreh is just one of the club’s young talented players. Unfortunately for Lynch’s, their top young defender Nurdin Hrustic is unavailable for their Open Cup run because he recently signed with German Bundesliga club Vfl Bochum. Another young player from the club has moved on to bigger and brighter things is Tony Taylor, who is in the process of training with the US Under-20 National Team, and could be available for the Miami FC game.
The rest of the roster is made up of local players who have either gone to college or high school in the area. Some of the veterans on the club could be joining Apunte in “retirement” after this season. Midfielders Pat Cannon and Sean Steed, defenders Steve Command and Justin Lloyd and goalkeeper Greg Williams have played over seven years with the club and could make way for younger players next season.
Like most teams, Lynch’s FC is always looking to improve. While Beaches Adult Soccer League is a “very competitive league,” according to Apunte, the club is exploring their options for possibly joining the USL or the NPSL in the coming years. Apunte is confident that the club will continue to thrive after he and the veteran players are gone. The man who will play a major role in keeping the club rolling will be head coach Moses Williams who is also the director of coaching for the Jacksonville Jaguars Soccer Club (Note: The Jaguars club predates the NFL team with the same name). Williams is a talented coach who is always restocking the Lynch’s roster with local talent.
Modern technology has helped sports, especially for USASA clubs, like Lynch’s, who have a USL First Division opponent in front of them. All of Miami’s games can be viewed for free on USLLive.com, but Apunte says that they haven’t used the website all that much.
“We haven’t really watched a lot of film on them,” said Apunte. “We don’t worry about scouting too much. We know that they have a lot of good players and we’re just going to come out and play our game and see how it goes.”