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Men’s Soccer: Hayes twins play against New York Cosmos

When Paul Hayes learned his Queens College men’s soccer team was going to play the New York Cosmos in a spring game last week, he was ecstatic.

After all, it’s not every day you play a professional team, especially one with a reputation of the Cosmos. That is the team of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia, among other greats.

“Honestly, I thought we were playing Cosmos B,” Paul said of the team’s minor league squad. “I didn’t know there was a Cosmos A and Cosmos B. So, when I found we were just playing the regular Cosmos, I was kind of stoked for it. I found out Monday. I was like, wow, playing against the Cosmos! It’s a big deal.”

Indeed, it was.

While the game did not go the way Queens College had wanted — a 4-0 Cosmos victory at Hofstra University on Thursday — it still was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the Hayes twins. James and Paul Hayes played vital roles in Mattituck High School winning the 2014 state championship.

“One of my old teammates, Charlie Ledula, was playing today. I knew it was going to be a good challenge,” James said of an old LIU Post teammate who is vying for a job on the Cosmos. “He’s a high-caliber player. They just had a way higher intensity.

“I thought we were always going to be on the back foot. It’s a professional team or a semi-professional team, but it was a good attempt. It kind of showed on the ladder where we are.”

This Cosmos team will play in two leagues this year. From April through July, the club will compete in the National Premier Soccer League, which is composed of amateur, semi-pro and professional players. From August through November, it will participate in the NPSL Founders Cup, a pro league making its debut.

The Cosmos did not have anyone of a superstar caliber, but they did have several talented players. So, it was a learning experience in so many ways.

“We showed that for starters, especially myself, it’s a whole other level,” James said. “We kept up with them in the first 70 minutes, the last 20 minutes we were kind of just chasing our tails and you could just tell they could retain their level for 90 minutes. That’s just something we’ve got to build on.”

The Hayes realized the match was going to be an uphill battle, something the Cosmos reminded Queens College about early on. Midfielder Ricardo Bocanegra, a former Mexican youth international, scored off a blistering shot six minutes after kickoff off a backheel pass from El Salvadoran national team midfielder Junior Burgos. In the second half, Darwin Espinal added two goals and Bledi Bardic one.

“The difference of playing against a professional team is you give them one chance and they’ll take it,” Paul said. “You can compare good college teams to that. Hofstra lost four-nil to them recently and I’ve played against Hofstra before and they’re top dogs. They [win] the conference championship every year.”

Paul said the Cosmos were more physical. “They get on each other if something bad goes wrong, like a mistake,” he added.

The brothers, who are majoring in economics, have one more year of eligibility remaining before they graduate next spring. They probably won’t play professional soccer, but could end up either coaching or running a sports team some day.

They live off campus in Westbury, about halfway between Flushing and Mattituck. They share living quarters with a former Tuckers teammate, Mike O’Rourke, who attends Hofstra.

On a cold, windy, rainy afternoon, the Hayes had some friends who braved the elements while rooting for them at the game, including another one-time Mattituck teammate, forward Ryan Foster, on spring break from SUNY/Cortland, and O’Rourke.

“A couple of my friends from Mattituck came out,” Paul said. “When you’re playing a team like this, you want to tell all your friends, ‘Hey, it’s against a professional team. It’s once in a lifetime. It doesn’t happen often.’ ”