Carlos Mendes: “We expect a great atmosphere, hosting a final at home. That’s all you can ask for. ” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Three times Carlos Mendes hoisted a championship trophy as the captain of the New York Cosmos.
Now, the Cosmos head coach hopes to watch another captain, Danny Szetela, do the same on Saturday night.
Mendes will try to become the first Cosmos to play for and coach a championship side as the team hosts Miami FC in the National Premier Soccer League final at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. at 7 p.m.
“It’s exciting,” Mendes said. “The two best teams all year in the NPSL are playing in the final, the way it should be. Big challenge for us, a very good team. We expect a great atmosphere, hosting a final at home. That’s all you can ask for. We’re looking forward to it.”
Captaining and coaching a team have some contrasts and some similarities.
“In terms of similarity, it’s hard to compare,” Mendes said. “Just trying to be a good leader. Obviously, it starts with the head coach and the staff, making sure we’re prepared that we have a good week of work and to stick to our game plan. In that sense of similarities, trying to be prepared, and make sure it starts with me. As a coach, it’s important to control the emotions to make sure the training, the tempo, everything is at a good pace, the guys are relaxed mentally going in, so come Saturday, we will be at our best.”
A native of Mineola, N.Y., Mendes was the first player signed by the Cosmos in their reboot in 2013. He skippered the club to the 2013 North American Soccer League title and to championships in 2015 and 2016.
“I’ve been here a while now. I understand the tradition, the history of the club, what it means on what to our fans to bring another national championship to this club,” he said. “But we have a lot of work to do. We’re playing a very, very good team. We have to be focused. We don’t expect anything easy. There are going to be moments that are difficult in the game. But if you want to win a championship you’ve got to get through them.”
Here are some of Mendes’ remembrances of his three Cosmos championships:
After capturing the NASL fall title, the Cosmos clinched a berth in the championship game at the Atlanta Silverbacks. Marcos Senna scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory.
“Winning the championship, the amount of people that traveled for us,” Mendes said “We had huge support there. To win it in Atlanta and have our fan base down there, family and friends — I personally had a lot of people for me — to see the team grow and win a championship was very special. What stands out most was the process leading up to the championship game and the winning.”
Gaston Cellerino recorded a hat-trick to power the Cosmos to a 3-2 triumph over Ottawa Fury FC before 10,166 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. to give the retiring Raul and Senna a proper send off to their legendary careers.
“We played the final at home,” Mendes said. “It was special to be able to play in front of your family and friends and have a stadium packed. The season was special, too. Two great players, two great people that meant so much to soccer and represented the club so well decided to retire. It was special to share that moment to win a championship with them and send them out as champions.”
After playing to scoreless draw, the Cosmos won the shootout, 4-2, against Indy Eleven to earn their third NASL championship in four seasons and second in a row. before a capacity crowd at Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University in Queens. Right back Ryan Richter, a late-season addition, tallied the game-winner after Jairo Arrieta, Adam Moffat and Ayoze put their attempts away for the Cosmos against goalkeeper Jonathan Busch.
“I think just the fashion you win it in, a final to go to PKs,” Mendes said. “A difficult match. To win in dramatic fashion. It’s not easy to win championships. Going back-to-back meant a lot. It was a difficult season. There were a lot of challenges.”