By DAN KARELL
It wouldn’t be much of an overstatement to say that New York Cosmos midfielder Paulo Mendes wasn’t exactly a household name at the start of the season.
Some might have him confused for teammate Carlos Mendes, and even when the Brazilian midfielder signed for the club in June, the news was buried underneath the announcement of Satoru Kashiwase joining the Cosmos on loan from Japan.
But while his elder compatriot Marcos Senna has owned the spotlight this season, Mendes has quietly and quickly put together three straight solid performances, scoring in each of the last two games, including his game-winning-goal against Minnesota United.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of his recent success is that prior to starting in the Cosmos’ 2-0 victory at the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Mendes hadn’t once made even the game day roster. To his credit, the 23-year-old credits his unwavering belief and confidence that he’d get a chance to play, and he’s passed so far with flying colors.
“For me, I just keep working hard,” Mendes told SBI after Cosmos training last week.” I never think about anything with not making the 18 (man game day squad) and I just kept working hard and finally got picked.”
Mendes’ insertion into the lineup by Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese has come just as the team has gone on what’s currently a four-game winning streak as well as continuing a seven-match unbeaten run. But there’s no doubt that by placing the Brazilian on the field, the Cosmos aren’t seeing a dip in form. If anything, they’ve played even better.
“(Mendes is) working hard. He’s going in the middle, helping, stealing balls,” said Savarese to SBI. “He’s contributing physically the entire game and that has given him a reward to be able to score a goal and to continue playing (in the lineup).”
The easygoing native of Goiania, Brazil, which is in the south-central region of the country, has definitely grown on his teammates quickly. Despite joining the club in mid-June from the Atlanta Silverbacks, he has quickly gelled with the group and has definitely given the team a new boost of confidence, especially to the reserves who know that if they put their head down and continue to work in practice that they’ll be given a chance by the coaching staff to impress.
“He’s playing well,” Cosmos midfielder Danny Szetela told SBI. “The first game against Fort Lauderdale, it was his first start of the season, he came in and did well for us. He held the ball, his movement was great, and he helped us create a lot of chances. I think the same thing against Tampa Bay. (Other teams) have to worry about him because he’s good technically and does well going forward.”
Last season with the Silverbacks, Mendes played 10 times and scored one goal as the side struggled and failed to make the playoffs. This spring, though not a member of the team, he watched from the sidelines as the Silverbacks won the NASL Spring Season title on the last day, earning the right to host the NASL Soccer Bowl on November 9.
When Mendes joined the Cosmos this summer, it represented the first time that he wasn’t going to be playing alongside his twin brother Pedro.
The two first came to the USA in 2009 to play at Foothill College, a community college in the San Jose area. From there, following a couple of stops with amateur Californian sides, the Mendes brothers were scouted by former U.S. Men’s National Team star Eric Wynalda, starring for his Cal FC side in the 2012 U.S. Open Cup that upset the USL Pro’s Wilmington Hammerheads and then the Portland Timbers of MLS in the second and third rounds of the competition.
Wynalda brought the two to Atlanta in July 2012 when he became technical director of the Silverbacks, and it’s where Pedro continues to play.
“I’ve been following Pedro and Paulo for a few years, and when the opportunity came for me to put them in a professional environment, I wanted to take it,” Wynalda said in a statement when the brothers were signed back in 2012. “They’re both very talented players who can really help our team, so we’re very pleased to have them.”
And in what could be seen as some sort of cosmic sign, both the Mendes brothers scored on the same evening against different opponents, just a couple of hours apart.
“We’ve always done things similar, we were always together,” said Paulo. “It’s a coincidence (I’m sure), but we had some moments in the past where we had done the same things.”
Now that he has a few games under his belt, Mendes is starting to feel even more comfortable in New York. He’s admitted that he prefers the open spaces and relative quiet of the New York City suburbs compared to the bright lights of Times Square, and his teammates and coach have helped him settle in very quickly.
One of the players that’s had a big impact recently on Mendes has been Senna, who is proving to still be a high level player even at the at the age of 37.
“Marcos has been great,” said Mendes. “(He’s an) experienced player, giving me some ideas mentally how to stay focused. I think he’s helped me out a lot.”
Ideally for Paulo, the Cosmos will continue to rack up victories in the final stretch of the season, and end up in the Soccer Bowl where he can face his brother, potentially two weeks in a row.
The Cosmos, who are looking to extend their four-match winning streak on Saturday when they host the Carolina RailHawks, could potentially finish the season with two consecutive games in Atlanta. It’s something Mendes admits he’s looking forward to as long as the team continues to play well every week.
“I think our team is very organized now, we’re playing (well) together,” said Mendes. “I think we’re going to do a great job for the next few games if we just stay focused and keep working hard.”
“Hopefully (my brother and I will) see each other in the Soccer Bowl, and (the Cosmos) can win.”