When the storied New York Cosmos franchise returned to the pitch in 2013 after a 29-year absence, the first player signed was Long Island native Carlos Mendes who would be named team captain. Also, part of the Cosmos reboot was the signing of New Jersey product Danny Szetela who was trying to return to action after a series of injuries had interrupted his career.
When you think about teammates that were together for a while and won multiple championships together during the glory years of the Cosmos back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the legendary names that come to mind Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, Werner Roth, Carlos Alberto, Andranik Eskandarian, Hubert Birkenmeier and Vladislav Bogicevic.
In the modern day NASL era, Mendes and Szetela helped the Cosmos win the Soccer Bowl three times in five years between 2013 and 2017 and they went to the NASL Championship Final four times. Mendes retired after the 2017 season and became the Cosmos Head Coach as they participated in the amateur National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) after the NASL ceased operations. The league allowed teams to sign professional players so Szetela was brought back and named captain.
And later this year, the “dynamic duo” in green will still be together as the Cosmos return to a professional league to participate in the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).
It’s kind of like the Cosmos version of “Batman and Robin”!
“I think both of us are very lucky to have that opportunity,” said Mendes. “Not too many (people), whether you’re a player or a coach have the opportunity to be at a club for a long time, a club with such rich history and tradition. I’m very excited to be back and I’m excited to have Danny back as one of our leaders and a veteran who is going to be the spine of the team.”
In each of the last two years, the Mendes, Szetela and the Cosmos enjoyed a tremendous amount of regular season success in the NPSL regular season as well as the NPSL Members Cup competition this past fall. However, in all three competitions in 2018 and 2019, the Cosmos failed to duplicate that success in the postseason and hoist a trophy.
But now the only two men that were on the field at the start of the reboot that are still on the club in some capacity in 2020 have a chance to duplicate what the Cosmos did seven years ago…to join a league midway through the campaign for the fall season and win the league’s championship.
“It kind of feels like 2013 all over again in a new league and starting in the fall season so I’m excited to get back out there,” said Szetela. “It’s great to be able to be with a club that you’re comfortable with the club and the fans. It’s where my career was re-booted so obviously a place where when I retire, this is where I want to retire.”
At the end of 2019 season, the future of Szetela with the Cosmos was certainly up in the air. Szetela had hinted that he might retire and there was also uncertainty about the future of the club since the NPSL would no longer allow teams to use professional players. The Cosmos needed to find another league to play in and they certainly wanted to make sure it was a professional league.
There is still a formality of being officially approved by the United States Soccer Federation in the near future, but the Cosmos have tentatively been accepted into NISA for the fall season so just like 2013 the Cosmos will have some extra time to get ready for a fall season and compete for a championship.
With the Cosmos returning to a pro league and with Mendes back on board as the head coach, Szetela put those retirement plans on hold and signed on for another season with club and badge (soccer term for logo) that he has grown to love over the years.
“It definitely played a role,” said Szetela of the chance to play for his friend again. “The team wanted me back and Carlos wanted me back and I wasn’t ready to hang up the boots because I have a lot left in the tank and feeling great. I’ve always wanted to retire as a Cosmo. We’re playing another year and hopefully there’s a few more years after that where I can continue to play with the club and then retire later on. “
As they get ready to play in the NISA fall season, the Cosmos have to reconstruct their roster and it was both appropriate and symbolic that the first player they signed for 2020 was their team captain and one of the faces of the franchise since 2013. It was very important for Mendes and the Cosmos to make sure that Danny was going to be a part of the club this season.
“We’re very happy to have him back,” said Mendes. “I know Danny very well, first as a teammate and now obviously getting to coach him and he’s a big part of the organization. He understands the club. He knows what is expected of him and we definitely want him to be a leader like he’s been in the past and try to get us to move forward and have a successful season.”
The relationship between Mendes and Szetela has certainly grown over the years. During the five years that they were teammates, they were also roommates. They became close friends off the field and that has continued today even though their on-field connection has shifted from being teammates to a coach/player relationship. But there is a common denominator of their five years as teammates and the last two seasons.
Mendes was the on-field boss back then and is the boss on sideline today as the coach.
“When he was a player, I always had to listen to him because he was behind me as the center back,” said Mendes. “And now as a coach, I still have to listen to him. It’s exciting to have Carlos there. He knows what he’s doing.”
If you combine the years that the legendary Cosmos clubs played in the original North American Soccer League as well as the five seasons that the re-booted Cosmos played in the modern day NASL, the franchise has won eight league championships, far and away the most successful soccer franchise ever in North America. And now that the club is set to play in a pro league once again, the objective is to add that ninth piece of hardware to the trophy case in the office of team owner Rocco B. Commisso.
And two guys that have been there from the start of the reboot in 2013 will play a big role in their first season in NISA.
“I think it’s great,” said Mendes. “Obviously, it’s where the club belongs…in a professional league. We can focus on the things we need to do. It’s going to be a big challenge. We have a lot of work to do and it’s going to be very very difficult in a competitive league.”
Mendes and Szetela stood on a stage three times as teammates when the Cosmos hoisted the Soccer Bowl in 2013, 2015 and 2016. Back then, Mendes was the captain and Szetela was an important part of the Cosmos midfield. And now they have a chance to repeat history, but this time with Mendes as the coach and Szetela as the captain.
“It definitely would be special,” said Szetela. “Whenever you can hoist the trophy its always special. We’ll be training a little bit during this time until pre-season starts in June but once June come the focus is winning another championship.”
There have been some great players who have worn the Cosmos jersey going back to the 1970’s like Pele, Chinaglia, and Beckenbauer. Those legendary players helped turn the Cosmos one of the most famous clubs in the world and that still applies today. Since 2013, more legendary players suited up for the Cosmos like Marcos Senna and Raul. But only two players from that first season are still together for the green and white.
Long Island’s Carlos Mendes and New Jersey’s Danny Szetela were a great combination as teammates and now they’ll have a chance to win another championship as coach and player. It would be just like Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen collaborating on a hit song!