Mendes Set to Go for Another Title and Make Cosmos History

Carlos Mendes and other Cosmos players share their thoughts on the current threat to the NASL's existence. Photo by NY Cosmos

champ-logo-no-yearJimmy Maurer didn’t seem ready to say goodbye to Carlos Mendes last weekend in Miami.

The New York Cosmos‘ keeper was lights out with five saves and two penalty stops in the shootout to lift the team to victory in the North American Soccer League‘s postseason, extending the soon to be retied Mendes’ career in the process.

“It’s crazy, right? Jimmy was so great in the shootout, but also throughout the game,”  Mendes said. “He came up with two or three really big saves when we needed it. He’s been great all year, but obviously he was massive in that game.”

Winning in do-or-die moments is nothing new for Mendes or the Modern Era Cosmos, who have lost just one of their seven postseason bouts in the last five years and are set to vie for their fourth Soccer Bowl trophy this week.

The Cosmos will bank on that postseason experience in the Championship final this weekend as they face the San Francisco Deltas, who are only in their first year of existence.

“I think this year and in past years we’ve always had guys that have experience in big games and big situations,” he said. “Any time when you play in these types of games, whether it’s the final or semifinal or Open Cup game, you need to limit the mistakes. You need the experience to calm the game down in certain moments, know when to slow things down and when to speed it up. That all comes with experience from guys that have played at high levels.”

San Francisco may be the new kid on the block, but its coach, Marc Dos Santos ,has proven himself time and again over the last three seasons in the United Soccer League and the NASL. Dos Santos, who was awarded the league’s Coach of the Year award this week, challenged the Cosmos for the league title two years ago with the Ottawa Fury.

The Deltas have the same tactical discipline as that Ottawa side, as well as star keeper Romuald Peiser and forward Tommy Heinemann. Although the Cosmos managed to prevail against Ottawa at Hofstra Stadium two years ago, Mendes expects a hard-fought battle in San Francisco.

“They work hard and they’re good at what they do. They’re good at counter attacks and set pieces,” said the Cosmos center back. “They won’t give up. Even if you take the lead on them, they’re gonna come back at you harder and fight more. It should make for a really fun final. I played with Tommy in Columbus, so I know him well. He’s a big boy. He’s strong, he works hard, he won’t stop running, and he makes it difficult on you. He’ll pressure you on every 50-50 ball, and he’s gonna win some of those. He’s just got such a great work rate and is a smart forward.”

This week of training has had a different vibe for Mendes now that he knows this will be his final week prepping for a match with his teammates. Regardless of Sunday’s result,  he knows it will be his last outing as a professional player.

“Now that I know this is definitely the last one, it’s definitely kinda sunk in a bit,” he said. “I’m still focused, I think it all will really hit me next year or when there’s a new season starting up and I’m not there, that’ll be the biggest thing. I’m definitely gonna miss the locker room, the banter, traveling with the guys. I’ve made so many great friendships, met so many unbelievable people that’ll be something that I miss tremendously.”

Before he officially calls it quits, though, Mendes has a shot at helping the modern Cosmos outdo the original team in one unique aspect.

A victory this weekend would be the fourth time the current Cosmos have lifted the Soccer Bowl trophy. That tally would still be one shy of the original team’s five, however, a win on Sunday would be the first time the Cosmos have ever won three straight league titles. The original team only won back-to-back Soccer Bowls once, in 1977 and 1978. They came up short of the Soccer Bowl the next year, falling to the Vancouver Whitecaps in the conference championship.

Finishing on such a high note would be another boon for Mendes’ legacy among the Cosmos greats. For the moment, though, Mendes would rather table talk of legacy and focus on one more match.

“I haven’t really thought about it to be honest,” he said of his place in the team’s history. “That’s for other people to decide. We’ll see. For me, I’ve enjoyed every single moment. I’ve said from day one it’s an honor and I’m very proud to represent the club. I’ve been through all of it here. Now hopefully all that people will say about me is that I was an honest player that gave everything, not just here with the Cosmos, but throughout my career.”