Alfonso Mondelo (middle) was inducted into the Eastern New York Soccer Hall of Fame in 2019. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
This story was published in the July/August 1997 issue of Soccer Magazine
By Michael Lewis
If there is a soccer game going on, then there’s a good chance that Alfonso Mondelo is probably watching.
The coach of the Long Island Rough Riders estimates that he watches more than 300 games a year, some live some on TV, which averages out to about one per day.
“It’s my blood,” Mondelo said. “There are a lot of worse things than watching soccer. It’s a beautiful form of art. It’s a great expression of teamwork. It brings a lot of passion out of people. I really enjoy it.”
Those 300 games do not include the 30 or so he coaches for the Riders, where Mandela has put together one of the top coaching records in professional soccer over the past three seasons. The Riders are 66-19=1 during that span, which includes reaching the final four of the USL Select Division, playoffs three consecutive years and winning the title in 1995.
“I have been very fortunate,” Mondelo said. “I have had very good players who have responded well and who are winners.”
So is the coach who has that competitive edge on and off the soccer field.
“If I play cards with my kids, I want to beat them if I can,” Mondelo said. “You only live for your last result.”
Mondelo’s passion for the sport began while growing up in Bilbao, Spain, where he was a fan of Real Madrid. He and his family moved to New York City when he was 13 but he returned to his native country for a two-year stint in the Air Force. He played with AD Torrejon of the second division before two knee operations ended his serious playing days. His goal was to make the 1980 Olympic team at the age of 22.
“That was the end of my dream,” he said.
But as one door closed, another slowly. While stationed in Boise, Idaho, Mondelo coached a youth team. He played with the New York Hota Bavarians of the Cosmopolitan Soccer League for a season.
Mondelo was ready to guide the club’s Under-19 team when the coach of the adult amateur team suffered a heart attack in 1982. He was named coach of one of the metropolitan area’s top amateur teams at the tender age of 24.
“Reluctantly, the president of the club gave me the coaching position because I was younger than most of the players,” Mondelo said.
He proved himself quickly. Mondelo stayed at Hota for 12 years, refining his craft, winning several CSL titles, becoming one of the top sides in the Northeastern Super Soccer League and reaching the final four of the U.S. amateur cup for successive years.
“I learned a lot and made mistakes,” Mondelo said. “I was able to experiment with a lot of styles of play.”
It was also at Hota that Mondelo started his tradition of wearing suits to amateur and then pro games, whether it was raining or the game was played in the middle of a cow pasture.
“If you go to church on Sunday, you wear a suit,” Mondelo said. “Soccer is my religion and Sunday church. And then Sunday is church time.”
But to pay for those suits Mondelo had to work to make ends meet. He was a driving instructor, worked soccer camps, coached the state youth team and worked at the Hota club, “just to keep my family afloat.”
He said it was very trying.
The Rough Riders beckoned in the 1994 and Mondelo was on his way. This season Mondelo and the Riders faced their biggest challenge moving up to the Second Division A League. The Riders’ task wasn’t easy early on as they played their opening six games on the road before playing their home opener on the artificial turf at Hofstra University.
This might be his final year with the Riders as Mondelo has aspirations of coaching in Major League Soccer. Mondelo had an opportunity to become an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Mutiny last year, but he felt he had some unfinished business with the Riders.
“When I make a commitment, I have to live it out,” Mondelo said. “It’s my best interest to learn the professional game. I’m growing as a coach. I’m not in a rush to get there. I want to get there with both of my feet planted on the ground. The game will be there. Hopefully someone will see what I have accomplished.”