2013 was an incredible season for the reboot side. A big start to the year and two pieces of hardware by the end of it.
2014 and 2015 would be very different, however.
While 2014 got off to a disappointing start with the team just missing out on capturing the spring title, it gave way to something new for the fans to experience, the team’s first time entering US Open Cup play. And after defeating the Brooklyn Italians in their first match, the stage was set for their first derby against the Red Bulls at Shuart Stadium, an interesting situation for the captain as he prepared to face his long-time club.
“It was definitely strange the first time, obviously spending so much time at a club,” says Mendes as he reminisces suiting up against his old club. “The first time you play against them, it’s a new experience.”
Seven minutes in, Mendes was the one to get the Cosmos underway, sending a through ball to Mads Stokkelien which the striker fired in. The Cosmos never looked back and when the final whistle blew, they stood on the winning end of a 3-0 scoreline.
“I just remember how exciting the atmosphere in the stadium was,” he continues. “They have their fans and, of course, we have ours. Those are the games you love to be a part of, those are the games you remember.”
“That game was special because when you ask a lot of guys ‘What stands out for you?’ they will say the Red Bull game because the result; but the energy, the atmosphere in the stadium, those are games you remember.”
Despite that win, 2014 was not a banner year for the Cosmos who were eliminated in the next round of the Cup, failed to capture the Fall title, and were punted out of the postseason by the San Antonio Scorpions. Following a championship in their first year as an expansion club, was this still characterized as a letdown by the players?
“Yeah, I think we have high expectations,” says the captain. “Any time you lose, you don’t win a championship, it’s a letdown. That year I thought, just as a whole, we weren’t consistent enough. We weren’t playing our best soccer towards the end of the season going into the playoffs. When you’re not playing well, with confidence, at the end of the year, I think that shows.”
Admittedly, 2014 was a disappointment for the green and white faithful, but 2015 kicked off in ways reminiscent to the Cosmos of old. Raul, the Real Madrid legend, officially joined the club and former Spain teammate Marcos Senna and the Cosmos kicked off the preseason overseas in Hong Kong.
“For the club to sign a player like Raul, one of the biggest names in the game, it was huge.” states Mendes. “It brings credibility and even more recognition to the name. People know how great of a player he was. I don’t have to sit here and tell you how successful he was. But he’s even a bigger person, a greater person and to have him in the locker room, his leadership and to see him work day in and day out in training everyday was just something that I think, and not just the young guys, but guys like myself learned from and grew from.”
“Guys like him and Marcos were one of the huge reasons why 2015 was such a successful year and a championship year for us.”The club was also presented with a new derby as they hosted NYCFC for the first time. A wild match, it involved a two-goal deficit to City, a tying goal in the 90th minute from Lucky Mkosana, a missed penalty kick for City in extra time that sent the match into a heart-stopping penalty shootout where the Cosmos ultimately prevailed.
“Obviously, a win like that at home is huge,” says Mendes. “The emotions, it’s difficult as a professional when you’re on the field. That’s something you have to control and something you have to do a good job of because if you let the emotions get the best of you, you’re not going to be very successful. In a game like that, you have to stay composed and focused and play with confidence. I think it’s even harder on the fans sometimes. My family will tell me, my parents, my brother and sister will joke with me saying ‘Listen, I think it’s way harder watching, than when you’re on the field.’”
This writer could not agree with that sentiment any more if he wanted to. This was shared with Carlos.
“And sorry to all the fans for that one,” Mendes adds with a sheepish grin. “I want to apologize, because everyone came up to us after the game and said ‘Jeez, you can’t do that to us anymore’, but it’s not like we’re intentionally doing it.”
We forgive you, Carlos.
While the Cosmos were eliminated in the next round by Red Bulls, who got its revenge for the 2013 loss, 2015 was still a positive year for the club who went undefeated in the Spring season to capture a home playoff match and ultimately took home another Championship, this time at home in front of their fans. The match also served as the final sendoff for Raul and Marcos Senna, who ended their careers with one last trophy.
With a Championship at home and the end of those two prominent careers on the horizon, did that final mean more to the Cosmos than 2013?
“I think the best way I could…” Mendes struggles to find the words. “it was more complete. I think the fact that it was the whole season was a big part of it. I think absolutely knowing that guys like Senna and Raul, it would be their last season, it meant that much more because they’ve done so much for this club, for the game. To kind of share that last championship, to have them go out as winners was definitely special. And also to have the opportunity to play the final, the playoffs, in front of our fans and our family and friends…not too many teams get to do that, not too many players have that opportunity and we wanted to take advantage of it.”“So, a very, very special season overall for a lot of reasons.”
Part 4 wraps up the series tomorrow with a look at the 2016 season, what the future holds for Carlos Mendes and what he thinks remains for the Cosmos to accomplish.