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New Cosmos begin soccer season Saturday at Hofstra

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

Want to know how long it's been since the Cosmos last played?

Let's not get into those comparative discussions like "back then, a gallon of gas cost only so and so . . ." or "at the time, the number one song was such and such . . ."

Just know that when their final game was played in September 1984, Marcos Senna -- who at 37 is the oldest player on the current Cosmos roster -- was only 8. Outside of Pelé and the memory of his famous bicycle kick, he has little recollection of a team that hasn't played in nearly three decades.

The original Cosmos, who generated newfound interest in soccer across the United States, competed in the North American Soccer League from 1971 to 1984, when the league folded.

On Saturday, the rebirth will take place when the Cosmos play the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at Hofstra University's Shuart Stadium as members of the second-tier North American Soccer League, which began play in 2011 and has no official ties to the defunct league of the same name.

Pelé, 72, who came out of retirement to play for the Cosmos in 1975, won't be on the field this time around. But he's the honorary president for Cosmos 2.0.

Senna is now the big name. He believes that although the team hasn't played in almost 30 years, the fan loyalty to the Cosmos' brand is strong enough to not only spark interest but sustain it.

"The most important thing we already have, and that's the name of the Cosmos and the name of Pelé," he said through an interpreter Monday night during media day at Legends in Manhattan. "Moving forward, it's just building to what will be on the pitch."

Joining Senna on the pitch will be 32-year-old defender Carlos Mendes, who grew up in Mineola and graduated from Wheatley High School in 1998. Mendes recognizes the competition the Cosmos face as they vie for the attention and support of fans who already have the Red Bulls of Major League Soccer and competition from teams such as the Yankees and Mets.

"You have to win games and you have to play attractive soccer," he said. "That's what it comes down to. To keep fans coming in New York, they expect teams to win and they expect championships. Hopefully we bring that to them."

They'll finally get the opportunity to try to do so beginning Saturday, when they will kick off their 14-game schedule and officially bring Cosmos soccer to Long Island.

"I think the Cosmos are something special," coach Giovanni Savarese said, "because many people were part of the past and now they want to be part of the future."

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