ATLANTA – The North American Soccer League’s gala Soccer Bowl game Saturday is guaranteed to provide a championship celebration for one family.
Atlanta Silverbacks head coach Brian Haynes will likely include 23-year-old Brazilian Pedro Mendes in his forward line. Opposing head coach Giovanni Savarese could select Mendes’ twin brother Paulo to start in midfield for the New York Cosmos.
A meeting between the siblings would represent the first time that they have competed against one another after rising to the professional ranks via the same high school, college and amateur teams.
“We knew we were going to go our separate ways at one point,” Pedro told The Soccer Observer after the Silverbacks’ training session Thursday. “We talk every day and we’re cracking jokes, but we’re both very focused on the game.”
The road to Saturday’s Soccer Bowl has been an arduous one for the Mendes brothers. They attended Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif. before embarking on a nomadic cross-country pursuit of professional contracts.
DV8 Defenders and the Rhode Island Reds were the next destinations in America’s lower tiers before former United States national team forward Eric Wynalda invited the twins to join his Cal F.C. side during last year’s U.S. Open Cup tournament.
“We didn’t even train with the team,” Pedro said. “We just traveled for the games from Boston because we were with Rhode Island at the time.”
Cal F.C. caused a stir by ousting the Wilmington Hammerheads of the United Soccer Leagues before recording a sensational 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field. Wynalda brought the brothers to Atlanta when he became the Silverbacks’ technical director in July 2012. New York finally split up the duo by luring Paulo north for the club’s return to action for the NASL’s fall season.
Atlanta sealed its place in the Soccer Bowl championship decider by winning the spring campaign while the Cosmos were preparing to return. A subsequent slump including five defeats in the last seven games saw the Silverbacks finishing seventh, second from last, after the mid-season break.
“I don’t blame them,” said Paulo of his former Atlanta teammates. “It’s difficult knowing you’re in a championship already and you still have to play a whole second half of the season.
“They won the first half, so I knew we had to win the second half to play against my brother in the final.”
The twins will have plenty of support at Atlanta Silverbacks Park on Saturday. Their parents, Hiram and Cerise, and younger sister Gabriela arrived Thursday from their home in Northern California. Grandparents from their native Brazil will also be among the expected sold-out crowd of around 7,000.
Pedro and Paulo may be unable to avoid each other during family gatherings before Saturday’s kick-off, but their conversations will be steered away from the championship game.
“What happens here stays here,” Pedro said. “What coach tells us or what we do in practice stays with me.
“Paulo is family, but we both want to win.”
Nov. 4, 2013 — Soccer Bowl The Next Step In Cosmos’ Journey Back To Summit
Sept. 7, 2013 — SLIDESHOW: New York Cosmos 1 Atlanta Silverbacks 1