Carlos Mendes: “A lot of people, they see that you get to the professional level and they see the stadiums and the field, but they don’t realize that through all the tough times, when you have major surgery and you’re not sure that you’re coming back.”
MELVILLE, N.Y. — On a night in which he was honored for his accomplishments as a player, Carlos Mendes was in a reflective mood during his induction into the Long Island Soccer Player Hall of Fame last Saturday night.
The New York Cosmos head coach remembered back to when he and the New York Red Bulls played Arsenal at Emirates Stadium in London in 2011. He and the rest of the squad were in the tunnel, waiting to come out for warm-ups.
“I thought to myself, ‘How in the hell did a little kid from Mineola end up with this opportunity on this stage?’ I started to get emotional,” Mendes said. “I said ‘You better get your stuff together or this will be the last game you will play.’ I’m trying to fight back tears as I go out for warm-ups.”
There was a good reason why Mendes was emotional “because that moment was not about me.”
“It was about a lot of people in this room, a lot of people who sacrificed a lot to get there,” he added.
Mendes thanked a long list of individuals at the Huntington Hilton, starting with his coaches at the middle school, high school and youth levels. That included former Long Island Rough Riders midfielder-forward Cordt Weinstein, who worked with Mendes “for a long, long time.”
“It was for you guys in believing in me, putting in the time, for pushing me, at times giving me hell,” he said. “I didn’t know what you were saying, but it was all my coaches sacrificing and including their time.”
He then thanked his brother Bobby and sisters Melissa and Juliana, “my backbone from the days of running around Mineola and Albertson and supporting me.”
“A lot of people, they see that you get to the professional level and they see the stadiums and the field, but they don’t realize that through all the tough times, when you have major surgery and you’re not sure that you’re coming back,” Mendes said. “I wouldn’t have had a long, steady career unless it was my brothers and sisters who supported me from day one. And definitely my parents, my mother and father, who drove all over the country, all over Long Island, gave me the opportunity. But more importantly, they gave me the values, they instilled the values in me of hard work, dedication and respect and that nothing comes easy. If it wasn’t for you guys, I know that I would have never played professionally. So, thank you from the bottom of my heart for that.”
Here is the full speech of Cosmos head coach Carlos Mendes at the Long Island Soccer Player Hall of Fame induction last Saturday.
Posted by Michael Apple Lewis on Thursday, February 28, 2019
Of course, no acceptance speech would be complete without Mendes thanking his wife, Jill.
“I know it’s not easy being married to me or being married to someone who is so obsessed with the game with a professional athlete,” he said. “Most people see you on TV or they see you in the stadium, they think it’s easy. But you can ask my wife. I think the worst thing that has happened to us is TiVo because I come home after a game and I am [going over] my mistakes. ‘What was I thinking there?’ She has watched the game three times. It’s three in the morning and she’s like, ‘Please, go to bed.’ And the sacrifice and the patience. So, I thank you. None of this would be possible as I move into the next chapter of my transition. You are my rock.”
That transition has been from player to coach. Last year Mendes was selected as the National Premier Soccer League coach of the year after directing the Cosmos to a perfect 10-0-0 regular season. He will direct the team in the NPSL and in the NPSL Founders Cup.
“A lot of people will ask me, ‘When you look back and reflect on your career, what are you most proud of? I am most proud of is this: being from Long Island, my community,” he said.
When he graduated from Old Dominion University in 2002, he wasn’t drafted by any Major League Soccer club. So, he returned home to play with the Rough Riders, helping them to the USL PRO title.
“I was lucky enough to want players like Chris who lit a fire in me at my young age and say, ‘This is what I want to do,’ he said, referring to Long Island native Armas, who coaches the Red Bulls. “And I fell in love with it. To have the best coaches around and to have a family that supports you. For the Long Island Rough Riders to give me the opportunity to work my way up. … It came full circle.”
That was in 2013 when then newly named Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese, now in the same capacity with Portland Timbers, made Mendes the first player signed by the rebooted team. Former Rough Riders general manager Jim Kilmeade, who introduced Mendes at the induction, had spoken to Savarese.
Kilmeade repeated what Savarese said: “Listen, he was the heart and soul of that team. He was the first player we signed for a reason, because he really took it to heart. He led that team on and off the field by example. ”
While growing up, Mendes said Savarese was a player he idolized.
“It was an easy decision for me,” said Mendes, who went on to captain the Cosmos to three North American Soccer League championships. “The Cosmos have given me the opportunity to go back home and I retired here. And now, the next stage of coaching, which is paying it forward.
“I haven’t been at it too long, but I’ve had an incredible experience so thank to Joe [Barone, senior vice president] and the New York Cosmos. I just want to say again, Chris, we had a conversation last year. It isn’t easy when you finish a career and you’re kind of looking forward and thinking what you’re going to do and where you want to coach and you love the game. You’ve been a big help.
“All I can say is I know I’m going to be all right because of the people in this room, the community and what I grew up as. I just want to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart. This is a huge honor and thank you.”