Carlos Mendes received a thumb’s up from many NPSL observers, fans, players and media, who voted him the league’s coach of the year. (Matthew Levine/New York Cosmos Photo)
First of two parts
FrontRowSoccer.com will profile two leading head coaches in the NPSL. The first is Cosmos B’s Carlos Mendes, who was named the league’s coach of the year in his first season in charge of any team.
By Michael Lewis
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — If there is one thing Carlos Mendes has learned in his first coaching job, it’s that a coaches’ work is never done.
Minutes after his team’s final regular-season game against Kingston Stockade FC July 8, the Cosmos B head coach already had his team’s first National Premier Soccer League playoff game on his mind
“Already thinking about the game,” he said of the July 11 encounter with the Elm City Express.
“That’s one thing I noticed as a coach, it’s non-stop,” he said. “As a player, you can turn off once the game is over. You reflect, of course. as a coach, your work starts immediately. We have to start thinking about our opponents, scouting them and how we’re going to go about the game.”
Not that Mendes is complaining. Many other coaches would have loved to be in his position, reaching the Northeast Region finals. Cosmos B lost to FC Motown, which will battle Miami FC 2 for the NPSL crown Saturday night, in that match.
As successful as his rookie season was — New York is 12-1-1 in NPSL action en route to earning league coach of the year honors — the campaign was a huge learning curve for the 37-year-old Mendes.
“There’s so much,” Mendes said. “The biggest thing is that you have to think differently as a coach, just the way you see the game. You have to look at it a little bit differently than when you’re on the field playing. You’re looking at yourself individually on how you can get better. As a coach, that’s completely different. So that’s the biggest adjustment.”
And it’s more than just X’s and O’s and figuring out tactics. Any coach these days must be an amateur psychologist to deal with so many various personalities on a team.
“Managing and understanding what makes players tick,” Mendes said. “Everybody’s different. Everyone’s got a different personality, everyone reacts differently to whether its constructive criticism or getting on someone when you need to be firm. That balance of knowing the different personalities and get the most out of guys.”
As someone who retired from the game after the 2017 North American Soccer League season, Mendes has had to learn to step away from being one of the boys. Mendes was team captain from 2013 through last year.
“It was a bit of a step back, but not much,” said team captain Danny Szetela, who played with Mendes on three Cosmos championship teams. “Maybe he gets to yell at us a little more on the field, but he’s been great.
“Carlos has been doing a good job of advancing us to get to the next level. Guys have been doing well, guys have been maturing,”
Another former teammate, striker Bledi Bardic felt the Mineola, N.Y. native transitioned well into his new position.
“He is doing great job,” he said. “He has his game plan and tactics and he sticks to what he believes, and things are going his way.
“I’m pretty sure he will be successful now and in the future.”
Mendes said that there have been no problems on both ends.
“Honestly, as long as the respect’s there,” he said. “I’ve had great teammates, guys like Danny who are top professionals, have been around for a long time. It’s easy. They come to training every day. They work. They have a respect about them. You still have a relationship. You come to work and it’s time to work and they’re very professional. For me, it’s been easy just because again, good people, good character. And they come and do what’s best for the team and that’s the most important thing.”
As a relatively young coach, midfielder Travis Pittman felt Mendes could “relate where we’re coming from.’ Someone’s not playing well, some one’s playing well.”
“He does well at managing players,” he added. “Of course, it’s going to be a learning curve because it’s his first year. He’s positive. His training sessions are top-class. He goes over the tactics. They’re clear and to the point. Everybody knows their roles. There’s no question on what I should be doing. Everything is clear. He’s an open guy. If I have any questions, I feel open to go and ask him. I’m sure that’s the same for everybody.”
Mendes’ education as a future coach began when he was a player. Last year he admitted he was fortunate to have several high-profile and knowledgeable coaches as during his playing days.
“I’m very, very lucky,” he said. “I’ve been very, very lucky to play for some unbelievable coaches, some successful coaches that really helped me throughout my career and helped me so much.”
The list includes (Mendes’ years under a coach in parentheses):
* Paul Riley (Long Island Rough Riders, 2002), who guided the North Carolina Courage to the 2016 National Women’s Soccer League crown
* Pat Ercoli (Rochester Rhinos 2003-2004), who won three A-League titles and the 1999 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup
* Los Angeles Football Club coach Bob Bradley (MetroStars, 2005), who brought Mendes to the MLS club and who won the 1998 MLS Cup championship with the Chicago Fire, and who is a former U.S. national coach
* Bruce Arena (Red Bulls, 2006-07), who won five MLS Cup titles with D.C. United and the LA Galaxy and who is a former U.S. national coach
* Juan Carlos Osorio (Red Bulls 2008-09), who is the Mexican national team coach, most recently directing the team at the 2018 World Cup
* Former Polish international Robert Warzycha, (Columbus Crew SC 2012), who guided Columbus to the 2009 Supporters Shield crown
And Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese (Cosmos, 2013-2017), who won three NASL titles and went to a fourth final during his five-year tenure.
From these mentors, Mendes has learned to have and listen to his lieutenants to get different opinions on training, naming a Starting XI or the 18 players for a game and substitutions. His top assistant is Luis Guitierrez, the strength and conditioning coach, Steve Diaz is the goalkeeper coach and Gianluca Masucci is an assistant coach.
“That’s crucial,” he said. “We have a very open relationship with the staff in the sense of communicating. I’ll ask Luis, Steven and Gianluca what they think and how they see it. You need to hear different opinions and come together. Ultimately, I’ll make the decision, but that’s very, very important. I’m lucky. I have a very good staff.”
Mendes admitted he still gets some pangs on wanting to get onto the field and play.
“I think it’s natural,” he said. “You still have that competitive drive and you still love the game. I’m always going to miss it. I don’t think that will go away, but there are things that I’m enjoying now that I couldn’t enjoy when I was playing. So, it’s a different stage of my life. Maybe when you’re at home, you’re more relaxed and spend time with your family, not worrying about physically being 100 percent. It could be getting three hours of sleep and still be OK. Things like that. You enjoy that.”
Asked what his most memorable moment was, Mendes replied, “To be honest, I enjoyed it all. From the first week of preseason, the transiton of a player to a coach to these playfofs games that were so tight, so difficult. The guys fought and battled and to the point, even up to the point where we lost this last game, the fight at the end of the game, how exciting it was. For me, it was a great ride. I enjoyed all of it. A great learning experience. For me, many more positives than negatives and I’ll take that to the future.”
Next: FC Motown’s Sacir Hot