Mendes and Cosmos Still Have Unfinished Business

Carlos Mendes embraces coach Giovanni Savarese in Saturday's regular season finale. The Cosmos will vie for a fourth NASL title before Mendes retires. Photo by NY Cosmos

Cosmos logoCarlos Mendes was more than happy to share the limelight with Emmanuel Ledesma on Saturday night as he readies for retirement.

Had Ledesma not notched a hat trick in the second half to lift the New York Cosmos to a 5-2 win against Puerto Rico, then the match would have sent Mendes into retirement without a shot at a fourth NASL title. The win locked New York into The Championship, the NASL’s four-team postseason tournament.

“All I could say was thank you for the brilliant goals. Ledesma was huge tonight,” Mendes said. “The most important thing is we won and secured a spot in the playoffs. That was the goal. Obviously it was an emotional night for me.”

Emotions started stirring for the Cosmos’ captain before the match started. A healthy portion of the crowd at MCU Park was made up of friends, family and mentors of Mendes who came out to support the Long Island native for his final home match. When Mendes walked out of the locker room this time, his wife and son were waiting along with members of the Cosmos’ front office to honor the 16-year veteran before kickoff.

“I had no idea what to expect. I started walking out and I saw my family, and I even saw my brother in law signing the national anthem and I started to get emotional,” he said. “I was like wait I’m not supposed to be getting this emotional before the game. This is supposed to be after.”

The entire team was eager to ensure Mendes’ time with the Cosmos did not end on a sour note. Securing wins at home has been easier said than done for the Cosmos this season. Saturday’s victory was only their fourth of the year at MCU Park.

“We knew the importance of the match, so we knew that we had to concentrate and make sure that we thought about the things that we needed to do in order to qualify,” Cosmos Coach Giovani Savarese said. “In that same moment, we wanted to give Carlos his moment to retire in the best possible way — at least at home. We just had to have a good balance in coming in to this game, making sure that we did what we had to do. It was a perfect night.”

An early goal for the visitors in the second half raised the stakes on the night, but Ledesma quickly responded with three goals to clinch the team’s fifth-straight postseason berth. Ledesma even helped set Mendes up for his first goal in two seasons.

“I saw Carlos’ face in that moment, he wanted that goal badly. He attacked like a center forward,” Savarese joked. “He held the player off and the cross from Manu was fantastic and he scored a great goal to be able to close this night in a perfect way.”

The moment gave Mendes an opportunity to scan the crowd as he celebrated and see some of the faces that have helped him over the years.

“It was absolutely perfect. Having all my friends and family and coaches and even that have guided me along the way and supported me here, and getting the goal on top of it,” he said. “It’s a very special night. I’ll always remember it. I’ll enjoy this with the family for a couple days and then it’s back to work.”

Waiting for Mendes and the Cosmos next week is either a matchup with Miami. Under Alessandro Nesta, Miami became the first team to claim the NASL’s Spring and Fall Season titles in the same year. Miami’s 69 points in the combined standings also set a new record, surpassing New York’s 65-point total from last year. In five meetings this year, the Cosmos recorded two wins, two losses and one draw against Miami. Their last meeting on September 6 ended 3-3 when Javier Marquez netted an equalizer in the final minute of stoppage time.

“This year hasn’t been easy,” Mendes said. “We’ve had ups and down and we haven’t been as consistent as we’d like to be, but I think we’ve built some character and we’ve kinda grown and matured as a team and hopefully we’re showing it now in the most important part of the season. We’re finishing the season strong and heading to the semifinals and hopefully to the final. A lot of work to do, but we’re peaking and we’re jelling, and I think we’re believing at the right time.”