It made perfect sense that when the Cosmos were finally ready to begin their first season back in professional soccer after a near 30-year absence, they named Carlos Mendes captain. Mendes, 31, is a native of Mineola, a graduate of Wheatley High School and a resident of East Meadow, whose roots on Long Island extend as far back as those of the original Cosmos.
But Mendes, a defender, is not on the roster just to draw local fans to watch the Cosmos play their home games at Hofstra. He's an eight-year MLS veteran who earned MLS Defender of the Year honors with the Metrostars in 2006, and was with the team through 2011 after they became the Red Bulls. We asked Mendes about returning to play for the Cosmos, his memories of playing soccer on Long Island, and his pro career.
What does playing for the Cosmos mean to you? Why did you want to play here?
Mendes: "The staff that was here, I knew was excellent. The history and tradition of the name, the Cosmos, I grew up hearing about it so I know all the history and how special it is. I believed in the club and the owners so it was an easy decision to come here. It's a dream come true. Any time you get to play a professional sport in your hometown. I grew up playing on these fields like Mitchel Field and all over Long Island and New York. So for me, playing in front of family and friends and for a great group of guys is extra special. I'm proud and I'm happy to be here."
Talk about growing up playing soccer on Long Island.
Mendes: "I actually started my professional career with the Rough Riders, too . . . but I graduated Wheatley in 1998 and played high school soccer, which I really enjoyed. We had some competitive teams. Since I can remember at like 4 or 5 years old I've been playing. For Albertson, Mineola, Dix Hills, the state teams, regional teams and all of that. These are my childhood memories. I've played for a lot of great coaches, people from Long Island and New York, so it's special now to be playing in front of them."
What were some of your highlights with the Metro-Stars/Red Bulls?
Mendes: "For me it was playing in the MLS Cup [in 2008], even though we didn't win it. But any time you play for a championship, that's special. It was out in [Los Angeles], and I had probably 50 people that flew from Long Island to watch the game. And also playing clubs like Barcelona and opening the new Red Bulls stadium, so I have a lot of great memories in the MLS . . . But I never won a cup in the MLS so we have to win one here with the Cosmos."
Who is the best player you've played with? What have you learned?
Mendes: "I've played with a bunch of great players. Thierry Henry, Youri Djorkaeff and Juan Pablo Ángel, Marcos Senna, is definitely one of the best players I've played with. He's not only a great player but an unbelievable guy. He comes in with a great attitude to work every day. It's an honor to be on the field with them . . . It's a learning process. Your first couple of years as a pro you need to listen, put your head down and work. The biggest thing I take from these guys is the competitiveness and the work you need to put in every day to be at that level. They taught me a lot."
I know defenders don't score very often, but when was the last time you scored a goal?
"Yeah, we don't score very often. In a league match? It's been a long time, I never scored in an MLS match . . . so . . . college . I need to get one, haha. I've come close a couple of times but it seems like nothing works for me so I need to get one this year."
What do you think it'll be like if you score during a home game this year?
"Oh, man, that'll be special. My family always jokes about it, telling me 'you better score here at home,'but of course, again, as long as we keep winning, we think we have a team that could compete for a championship."