Carlos Mendes: “We learned about playing with some character playing a good team in tough conditions.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)

With only 10 games in the NPSL Members Cup season, every match and every point counts.

So, when the Cosmos battled back from a rather mediocre first half to register a 1-0 road win at Chattanooga FC in their league opener on Saturday night, head coach Carlos Mendes could not have been prouder.

“It was an important win, a good win for us,” he said. “Very difficult game. tough environment to play. We played a very good team that in the first half gave us a lot of trouble. Second half, I thought we were better and made some adjustments. Just proud of the group. Tough game to get three points. It was the right way to start the season.”

Afterwards, Mendes spoke to the team about what he felt was a vital learning experience. The Cosmos had less than a week to prepare for the match after losing to Miami FC, 3-1, the National Premier Soccer League final the previous Saturday.

“We learned about playing with some character playing a good team in tough conditions,” he said. “We didn’t do real well in the first half. They had the better of the player and to respond and you get the three points, you grew and grew as a team in maturity and character.”

Two players who hadn’t performed in a while due to injuries, started and acquitted themselves well — goalkeeper Santiago Castano and forward Aly Hassan.

Castano, making his first appearance since a 2-0 win at the New York Athletic Club on June 2, recorded the clean sheet.

“He did well,” Mendes said. “Santi’s was dealing with an injury. So, he’s been out a while. We felt, Steven [Diaz], the goalkeeper coach, the staff, he was training well, starting to get healthy, he is healthy, starting to get into rhythm again and training well. We wanted to get him into a game. He was very good, good decision making, good distribution and came up big when he had to.”

Hassan did not play as much as he was replaced by Junior Burgos, who tallied the game-winning goal off an 83rd-minute free kick. Still, Mendes welcomed back the striker who scored several key goals during the early part of the NPSL season before he was sidelined by a leg injury for more than a month.

“He battled for us,” Mendes said. “He’s still working to get into rhythm, but it was good to have him out there. The first half as a group, just looking at us overall, it was more difficult that we didn’t have possession of the ball as much. So, he battled, did a lot of good things. We didn’t have too many opportunities, but that was not on him.”

The Cosmos host the Milwaukee Torrent in their League Cup home opener at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. Saturday at 7 p.m.

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at