RR: I guess I’ll start by asking about your own background in football - I remember researching for an article I wrote about Lynden a good few years ago and finding out that you yourself had trials with a number of high profile clubs when you were younger...
AG: Our father, Paul, got Lynden and I into football at a young age. I started playing when I was five, while Lynden started at two or three years old. I grew up playing for my dad and some other coaches at our local club, the Santa Cruz Breakers. During that time, I had the opportunity to train at a few different academies, including AC Milan and Everton. Nothing really came of it, but they were great experiences that helped me develop at a young age.
After that, I was selected to play for the State and Regional ODP (US Olympic Development Program) squads. The Regional program is a step below the National Team program. Unfortunately, I never made it to a national team invitational like Lynden did.
As I grew older in my high school years, I was recruited to play college soccer for San Diego State University. SDSU is a NCAA Division I college that plays in the Pac-12 against well-known universities including Stanford, who have won the Men’s College Cup each of the past three years. I played at SDSU for four years before graduating with a degree in Kinesiology in 2014.
Division 1 college soccer was the highest level I played at. Unfortunately, I wasn’t drafted by an MLS or USL team, and I decided that it was time for me to move over to the business side of the sport. Currently I work in the sponsorship department for the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer (MLS). Lynden and I grew up watching Quakes games as kids when Landon Donovan was on the team.
RR: So I presume you grew up in a pretty football crazy family...
AG: Lynden and I grew up with a father from England and a mother from Ireland. Pretty different from your average family in Santa Cruz, where surfing and skateboarding are king. Our dad is a huge football fan, and he coached us - and many of our friends - when we were younger. Our love of the game started with him.
We lived, breathed and dreamt about soccer growing up. Our dad ordered all the TV packages that included soccer from around the world so we could watch the sport’s best players. We used to fall asleep to Sky Sports and Fox Soccer Channel as kids. For big cup games, we would go to our local pub, the Britannia Arms, where our mom worked and still works! We loved watching the big games at the pub on their big screens surrounded by other soccer fans.
Lynden and I used to terrorise our mom at home. In addition to playing on the streets and in parks, we would always kick the ball around in the house. We would practice our free kicks and place objects, like our couch, in such a way that it would act as a wall. We would each take turns being the goalie. We smashed the walls, broke vases and light fixtures, and even cracked a window. I would always blame Lynden!
RR: Did you always think that Lynden would go on to make it?
AG: It was apparent at a young age that Lynden was a special player. There is even a video on YouTube of Lynden dribbling through an entire team and scoring a goal while he was playing as a goalkeeper.
While my dad was coaching me and my team, Lynden would come to all of our training sessions since my mother was working and nobody else could watch him. Eventually he started to train with us, which annoyed the hell out of me being the older brother. I was a little sh*t at those training sessions. I used to trip him and kick the ball at him, but if anyone else did that I would instantly get in their face or tackle them the next opportunity I had. We were and are very competitive, but we always looked out for each other.
Growing up, he played against kids a few years older than him, and he still seemed a step above most of them. Once Lynden finally got called up to the youth national team, I knew he was going to make it at a high level. It would just be a matter of when and where he would play professionally.
RR: What was it like when your brother moved away to chase his dream - how did the family cope?
AG: What a decision to make as a 16-year-old kid. It was a bit surreal. I was actually away at college when Lynden had made his decision to move to Sunderland. All of our friends and family were very supportive of Lynden’s decision to move to England to chase his dream. I was so excited, yet nervous for him. I was excited that he was going to chase the dream that we both had growing up, but I was nervous for him as I, along with our family, wouldn’t be there to watch over him. Although we have some family in England, Ireland, and Wales, they are not necessarily very close to Sunderland.
I think it hit my mom the hardest. Now she had an “empty nest”. Both of her children had left the house suddenly. Thank God for Skype and Facetime!
During Lynden’s early years in Sunderland, my dad would try to visit a few times a year to check in with him and make sure everything was going alright. Looking back at it, I think those early years alone helped him mature and grow as a player and a man.
RR: I’ve always wondered what sort of role Sunderland play in this situation - what did they do to ensure that both Lynden and the family were comfortable with his arrangement when moving to England at such a young age?
AG: I thought Sunderland did a fantastic job with this. They created a family-like atmosphere that made our family and Lynden feel right at home.
Lynden had been around the club from around 10 years old. He would visit and train with Sunderland a couple times a year from that age, so he was already pretty comfortable with all the players and staff by the time he moved to the club. I think the familiarity with the club’s players and staff was a big thing for him and our family, and that was a big reason why he had no hesitation moving there by himself at such a young age.
The club had organised where Lynden would be living a year in advance, so my mom and dad and Lynden had the chance to meet the host family and get to know them before moving to Sunderland permanently.
There were also other players that were living in the “digs” before Lynden moved. One of them being John Egan. John, who had already been living at the digs for two or three years, helped Lynden settle in and he looked after him. I think that was a huge part of why Lynden was able to hit the ground running and not be homesick.
John took the role of Lynden’s “big brother” away from home and I am very thankful to John for that. I’ve only met John once, but I always appreciated what he did for Lynden, and I know they are still close today even though he’s obviously not been at the club for a few years now.
RR: Tell me about when Lynden made his debut for Sunderland - what was that like?
AG: Sunderland versus Exeter in the Second Round of the League Cup. It was a 6-3 win at the Stadium of Light, with a Defoe hat-trick and a brace from Rodwell.
It was a weekday game, so I was actually at work listening to the stream. Lynden had text me that he was on the bench and may make an appearance if all went well. When the commentators announced he was coming on, I let out a little shout of excitement. He’d been working his whole life for this and now was his chance to fulfill the dream we both had. Some of my colleagues came over and started listening to the stream with me. We followed along on Twitter and watched the highlights afterwards.
Funny thing was two of my teammates and best mates from college were actually in Sunderland visiting Lynden at that time. They were at the game! What are the chances?! They Facetimed me after the game. They were so excited and out of breath from screaming on the phone. I’ll never forget it.
His Premier League debut was amazing as well. The first match of the 2016-17 season against Man City at the Etihad. He had told my dad on Friday that Moyes was going to start him and we were ecstatic as you can imagine. All those years growing up watching the Premier League, and now my younger brother was about to play in that league against Pep Guardiola and all the stars at Man City!? F***ing mental!
We woke up early Saturday morning and got the family together to watch the game at my parents’ house. It was unbelievable watching Lynden running up and down the left wing, taking on Sagna and some others from City. He put some great crosses in and I thought he had a great debut playing 64 minutes. Sunderland were a bit unlucky in the end with a late McNair OG to give City the 2-1 win.
RR: And what about when he was capped at senior level by the USMNT - what was it like watching your brother play for your country?
AG: It was a 1-1 draw against New Zealand in a friendly. It was incredible and unbelievable. My parents moved to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their future children. Now their son was coming on to the pitch to represent his country. What a story.
We actually had a viewing party at my parents’ house. We had family and friends over to watch the game. We were all crowded together in my parents living room watching attentively. When Lynden came on in the 59th minute, everyone at the house was jumping and cheering.
I had goosebumps once he ran onto the pitch. Representing your country is the highest honor you can have as a player. He had another solid debut, again impressing along the wing. Taking players on, putting dangerous crosses in. I felt so proud at that moment.
RR: Do you get across often to watch Sunderland?
AG: I’ve been over to Sunderland a few times now. I try to see as many matches as I can when I’m over in England.
I came over by myself once in 2013 during my college winter break. I stayed at the Roker Hotel. Loved it. Lynden was often in training during the days at the Academy of Light, so I would go around and explore Sunderland by myself at those times. I was able to see Sunderland versus Manchester United at the Stadium of Light for the first leg of the Capital One Cup. Sunderland won 2-1, the stadium was buzzing.
The last time I was in Sunderland was in 2015-16. My girlfriend and I went on a trip to England and Ireland to visit my family. We were able to see one away match at Stamford Bridge. That was my first away match, loved the banter and atmosphere! The last match I saw at the Stadium of Light was on January 2, 2016 vs Aston Villa. It was a 3-1 win. Unfortunately, Lynden didn’t play in that game. I think he had a knock or something. The atmosphere was great, my girlfriend loved it! I’m hoping to come back this December as I’m due for another trip.
RR: What are your hopes for Lynden going forward - do you think his chance to nail down a place will come soon?
As a young player, you just want to play. It doesn’t matter what position, you just have that fire and desire to be on the pitch. I think that if Lynden is played in his best position, he can prove to be a major threat going forward.
Lynden had a fantastic year in 2016. He had multiple debuts for club and country, and I thought he played well overall. I hope he can continue to build on that success, stay injury free, and get some consistent playing time.