Few players begin their professional careers as oddly as Tiago Mendonca. After inking his first professional contract in January for the inaugural New England Revolution II team, a dream of playing professionally had a beginning in sight; on March 28, Revolution II would open their season at home against Orlando City B. That was, until, all hell broke loose.
“[The COVID-19 outbreak] was very tough,” Mendonca remarked. “We just want to play, right? We want our season back.”
Mendonca signed for Revolution II on January 28, the tenth addition to the inaugural club. A native of Faro, Portugal, the midfielder grew up playing for the youth academy of S.C. Farense, a top-flight club in Portugal.
The academy product continued his career some 3,300 miles west of Faro, on the campus of Providence College. At Providence, Tiago was a two-time All-Big East First Team Selection and accumulated 58 starts, 11 goals, and four assists. A deft finisher with a knack for creating chances, Mendonca was a linchpin for the Friars since his rookie season, providing frequent flashes of brilliance from the midfield channel.
When The Kraft Group announced the inception of New England Revolution II in October, a blank roster needed to be filled within a few months; fortunately, midfield depth wasn’t far away.
“Signing my first pro contract was really exciting,” the former Friar explained, whose alma mater sits 25 miles southwest of Gillette Stadium. “I saw a future in [professional soccer] and went for it.”
Just weeks before Mendonca was slated to earn his first professional appearance, early rumblings of a threatening virus invaded national headlines. The coronavirus pandemic was quickly spreading into the United States, shedding doubt onto the viability of professional sports.
On March 18, ten days before kick-off for Revs II, the rumblings turned into declaration - the USL League One announced that the regular season would be delayed to April 11. A second delay followed, and then another. Soon, teams had no information on when competition could continue.
“When [the season] got postponed over and over again we were wondering if we would have any season. Every time it got postponed it got a little bit harder.”
Mendonca and his teammates were forced to train individually during their time in quarantine, presenting difficulties.
“It was a little bit challenging just to challenge ourselves individually,” he explained.
Within the span of a few weeks, final preparations for a professional debut turned into solo training sessions in quarantine, with any semblance of optimism blocked by clouds of uncertainty.
At last, three and a half months after the original postponement, USL League One offered a concrete return-to-play scheme, offering the season a new start date of July 18.
“It was definitely a relief - we were just happy we actually had a set date,” Mendonca said.
The new plan outlines a 20-game regular season , spanning from July 18 to October 24. Each team will play seven opponents twice in a home-home series; an assigned regional opponent four times, twice home and twice away; and two other clubs, one home, one away. In all, teams are scheduled to play 10 out of 11 USL League One opponents. (One team is omitted to limit travel.)
Since training has resumed, Tiago and his teammates have been hard at work preparing for their season opener, date and time TBD.
“I want to show myself that I’m capable and that I deserve to be [here],” Mendonca stated. “[It’s] definitely… a first step to get myself into the MLS - that’s my personal goal.”
Despite an unimaginable postponement, Tiago’s professional debut is still in sight. It might come a few months behind schedule, but you can bet on him being ready.
“[I’m] very excited - it’s soccer! [I’m] always excited to play a soccer game. My first debut is going to be very fun.”