In Part 1 of our Road to 100: Carlos Mendes series, we covered the beginnings of the captain’s story from his youth, through college, into USL and MLS. In Part 2, we covered the beginnings of the Modern Era Cosmos and some of the major moments through the 2015 Championship. Part 3 focused on the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
While there’s a proud past to look back on, Carlos’ career has brought him here to the 2016 season, the one where he has hiit the century mark with the re-born Cosmos. It’s only fitting that the captain is one to start this prestigious club in the Modern Era.
And this season has been a challenge with lots of changes on the field. But despite players departing the club mid-season and a poor run of results for most of the season on the road, the club has managed to put itself in the driver’s seat to host a playoff match.
“It’s always difficult,” says the central defender. “You know, there are gonna be moves and guys coming in and out. Obviously guys like Gabe [Gabriel Farfan] and Mike [Lahoud] and Hunter [Freeman], who’s one of the originals and such a big part of this club. It’s always difficult, but I think if you look at our results and how the season’s gone so far, I think the coaching staff and the front office have done an amazing job of bringing in good, quality players, of having a deep team.”
The results certainly suggest it. Despite losing all but one of their five away games in the spring, they’ve lost only two of six road games in the fall while remaining undefeated at home throughout the entire season.“Guys like David Ochieng and [Jimmy] Ockford, who played here before, have done a great job when they stepped in. And all over the field, I mean, not just at the back. You see our lineups, and we rotate, and everyone does a good job. I think that’s a very positive thing because if you want to win a championship, especially in this league, you need a deep team, you need guys to rotate and everyone’s done an excellent job and we realize this is a business too and those things happen and we still have a great, talented team and a team that can be competing for a championship, hopefully.”
The conversation drifts to what’s changed since that opening day in 2013 and what’s next down the pipe.
“Obviously, we’ve kind of been talking about some of the big results, and the championships, and the players that we signed, like Raul or Marcos Senna, so obviously the club is headed in the right direction. Hopefully, now we’ll see what the future holds but we want a place to call home and that’s the next step, but I’ve been so happy from being the first player signed; it’s amazing.”
“I think it’s important for the club that now the academy has started, which is a huge part of a club. I think that’s the next generation; that’s the future. So, to now have the academy starting, seeing the young kids grow from a young age and hopefully play for either the first team of the New York Cosmos or another professional team, that’s a huge step. Very, very important.”
Despite a major get for setting up the Cosmos of the future, the club still has a major achievement they’ve yet to reach.
“We’ve won two championships in the NASL, but we haven’t been able to win the US Open Cup, so hopefully one day we can be playing in a final for the US Open Cup and that would be a huge statement for this club.”
“And again, just overall helping the sport grow. You kind of see soccer develop in this country, you see the academies getting better and better and I think the Cosmos are no different. Hopefully, the academy keeps growing and the first team will keep growing. Our fan base is worldwide. And the amazing thing about the New York Cosmos is you travel around the world and a lot of people will know the name. They’ll say ‘Oh, the New York Cosmos’; they know the crest, they know the club. So, I think the name means a lot to soccer around the world, people know the history and hopefully we can keep growing it here in the US.”
And for the captain? There’ve been plenty of questions as to what 2017 holds for him as he turns 36 at the end of the year. Does he continue playing? Does he call it a career? Does he stay on as a staff member? What’s next for him?
“At the end of the year, I’ll sit down with my family and sit down with coach and make a decision. I feel great, mentally and physically, so I’d love to play as long as I possibly can. If I’m feeling good, I want to play. Once that time comes to retire and I feel like I’d like to move to the next chapter, I would love to be a part of this club moving forward.”“I signed here for the long term. I signed here not just to be a player, but hopefully to help the club moving forward and we’ll see what opportunity will come up for me, but I’m enjoying every moment. I know I don’t have too much left to play and I’ll play as long as I can and like I said after I sit down with my family, make a decision.”
“It’s an honor to be the captain of this team. When coach asked me, I was ecstatic. It’s something that I realize the history of this club, the players that have played for this team, for this club.”
Carlos Mendes has had quite the career. He started off as a kid in Mineola kicking a ball around, growing throughout New York soccer until making it as a professional. Now, with his career nearing an end, he’s found a way to continue that legacy by returning home to captain a historic side that’s close to home. He’s led them to two titles. He’s led a squad of domestic and international talent that’s featured superstars. That’s not a bad run for someone who’s spent his entire career in the United States and most of it in New York. And through it all, he’s kept his head down and let humility guide his path.
“One thing I’ve always said. I know I haven’t played at the highest levels or won any World Cups or European Championships, but I’ve been the guy that’s always been humble, tried to improve every year, tried to improve my game, lead by example.”
“I think that gets you to play with passion and good things come to you.”
Looking back on his career, this writer would have to agree.