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Cosmos players respect legacy, ready to start new path

Cosmos defender Carlos Mendes, a graduate of the

Cosmos defender Carlos Mendes, a graduate of the Wheatley School in Westbury, speaks to the media during a news conference. The club will play its home games at Hofstra University's Shuart Stadium. (July 29, 2013) Credit: James Escher

Though the Cosmos were dormant for nearly 30 years, their history and tradition is alive and well.

This legacy continues to have an impact on the current incarnation of the team -- even though a number of the players were not even born when the Cosmos were originally active, from 1971-1984.

"It was truly incredible just to be out there wearing the Cosmos jersey," said forward Peri Marosevic, who scored the team's first goal in 29 years during a 2-1 victory over Fort Lauderdale last Saturday.

While the 24-year-old Marosevic, who was born in Bosnia, says it is a "new era" for the Cosmos, he added that the current players must be respectful of the team's legacy and former greats.

"We have to honor them on a day-to-day basis," he said.

Defender Carlos Mendes echoes Marosevic's sentiments. Mendes, a 32-year-old Mineola native, said a reason he joined the Cosmos was because he "knew the history and tradition of the club."

This tradition has its roots in the 1970s, when the Cosmos were the marquee franchise of the original North American Soccer League (the current Cosmos play in a rebooted NASL).

Boasting all-time great players including Brazilian forward Pele and German defender Franz Beckenbauer, as well as other stars such as Italy's Giorgio Chinaglia, the Cosmos helped bring soccer, for a time, into the mainstream American sports landscape.

The team routinely played in front of crowds of more than 40,000 at Giants Stadium during the late 1970s. During a playoff game in 1977, the team even outdrew a Yankees game on the same night. They'll have to get used to smaller crowds now -- Hofstra's Shuart Stadium held a sellout crowd of 12,000 during Saturday's game.

In their heyday, the Cosmos won five NASL championships and gained a celebrity following that included Elton John, Barbara Streisand and Rod Stewart.

The weight of this tradition has carried on.

Mendes said the 2013 incarnation of the club must "understand the tradition and pride" of its predecessors while also not comparing itself to the past.

"It's our turn to start a new chapter," he said.

Defender Hunter Freeman said today's Cosmos are "a new project."

"There is always a connection with the past," Freeman said. "We have to honor them and respect them for paving the way."

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