Carlos Mendes wishes the circumstances were different, but that doesn't make him less ready for the challenge.
With starting defenders Jeff Agoos and Tim Ward out with hamstring strains, Mendes will be back in the starting lineup Saturday night when the MetroStars take on the Columbus Crew.
Mendes replaced Ward in the 62nd minute of the Metros' 1-0 loss at Kansas City Wednesday night after the rookie defender picked up a yellow card for a late challenge on Davy Arnaud.
"He's done well, he's a young player with a real bright future," Mendes said of Ward. "He's going to prove to be a big time player in this league."
"I felt I played all right, we didn't give up too many goals," Mendes said of his first five MLS starts. "There's little things I can improve on ... (like) really concentrating and keeping the team composed and organized. Keeping 100 percent focused is my main concern. If I let down, it could cost the team."
Even though Columbus has struggled, winning just one of its last six games, Mendes knows the Crew is a dangerous attacking team, especially with his old friend Edson Buddle up front. The two played against each other growing up in New York and Buddle burned the Metros last year for four goals in a game.
"Our main concern is with ourselves, with what we need to do, what we need to concentrate on," Mendes said. "If we do that, we should be fine."
In addition to Agoos and Ward, backup 'keeper Michael Ueltschey (lower abdominal strain) and rookie defender Chris Corcoran (hamstring strain) are also out while 'keeper Jonny Walker is listed as questionable with a calf strain.
After missing Wednesday's game in Kansas City because of personal reasons, Mike Magee is back and available, as is speedy striker Abbe Ibrahim, who served a one-game suspension for being sent off against New England last Saturday.
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.