Even before the New York Red Bulls player wore a Beachside Soccer uniform, coach Paul Melitsanopoulos had a pretty good inkling that Ben Mines was going to be one special soccer player.
Melitsanopoulos, currently USSDA Academy Director for the EDP club, had coached two of Mines’ older brothers, Timothy and Danny, and could not help but notice young Ben.
"He was just a little kid on the field with a soccer ball. He was always there," he said. "When he grew up, 8, 9, 10 and we had our summer camps and our younger Beachside teams, Ben always found himself playing up in age groups. You could tell he was special then."
Special enough to sign with a Major League Soccer club at the age of 17.
Special enough to score in his debut for the Red Bulls at that very same age, 18 minutes into the team's 4-0 season-opening win over the Portland Timbers at Red Bull Arena on March 10, 2018.
Those results did not surprise Melitsanopoulos at all because Mines had always excelled when playing up in higher age groups during his 2 1/2 years with Beachside.
"He had good teammates and showed extra dedication when he began to travel to the Red Bulls from Ridgefield (Connecticut),” Melitsanopoulos said. “He put in that extra sacrifice to follow his dreams.”
Years later, Melitsanopoulos got an opportunity watch Mines in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy playoffs and walked away impressed. Mines, who tallied 18 goals and 23 assists for the Red Bulls Academy teams, also won the Golden Boot at the 2017 USDA Generation Adidas Cup.
"He was the hardest worker on the field then and he's the hardest worker now,” Melitsanopoulos said. “Never stopped running. Super competitive. You can just see a difference. All the kids grew up playing in a competitive environment, but I give extra credit to Ben. He didn't waste any opportunity. He grabbed the bull by the horns every time. It did not surprise me that they had Homegrown him and I'm glad that they did."
MLS clubs are allowed to sign players in their region as Homegrown players, and Mines was one of several added by the Red Bulls in recent years.
Melitsanopoulos, who said Beachside could not take full credit, was just happy that the club had played a role in Mines' development.
"Where a club like Beachside comes in is with assisting in the development of that passion for soccer,” he said. “You're bringing together like-minded kids who really care about the game, and in Ben’s case this was before the game was really even on TV. Ben Mines, he loved soccer since the day he was born. He just wanted to play. Beachside was able to provide an avenue for that in a competitive environment, and it helped nurture Ben’s development. I just hope he had good memories when he was with the club. I know that we had good memories with him and his family and I think that's where we fit into the equation."
Not to worry. Mines has nothing but pleasant recollections of playing for Beachside.
"I started at Beachside when I was really young," he said. "I was at Beachside Juniors for a few years and that really helped my development in my early days. They do a really good job of bringing up players and making sure they develop in the right way. When I got into the actual academy, I got to play against guys who were older than me and they pushed me. They pushed me up age groups so I could keep challenging myself, and that really helped me excel. "
Mines was in a soccer-filled environment at home, too, with three older brothers who also played soccer at Beachside. Playing with his siblings in their backyard helped him become accustomed to older and talented competition.
For the record, his brothers were not much older. Today, Timothy is 22, Andrew 21, and Daniel 19.
"His brothers played at a high level when they were young, too," Melitsanopoulos said. "I think they set a really good example. So, ever since Ben was in diapers, he was watching some real competitive games. Whether it was the intensity on the field or the atmosphere from the parents, he was always surrounded by that. That's what he knew as normal. So, when it was his turn to do it, it was almost, 'My brothers did it, I want to do it,' but he made his own way and created his own identity.
“It didn't matter if he was playing with 10-year-olds or 13-year-olds, Ben just wanted to play. He was focused, he paid attention. He was a really, really good kid. Never once did you have to worry about Ben being a troublemaker or anything like that. He was extremely competitive, even if it was just soccer tennis, he wanted to do well. He still had that little smile about him. He was young, but he always did a lot of good things on the field."
Added Mines about playing with his brothers: "They beat me up a bit, rough-housing. But they taught me a lot, and they always treated me like a younger brother and helped me along the way.
That helped Mines become a more confident player because it can be a rough and competitive world out there.
"They made sure that I learned that pretty quickly," he said. "Being out on the field I still remember getting pushed around when I was younger. I push back. That's what I try to do on the field to hold my own."
He eventually moved to Oakwood S.C. before joining the Red Bulls Academy, commuting from Ridgefield, Conn. to Hanover, N.J., to train and play several times a week.
Mines, who scored twice for the Red Bulls II team in the United Soccer League last year, got his opportunity with the big club in March. Because the Red Bulls are involved in the CONCACAF Champions League knockout round -- they will meet Chivas (Mexico) in the semifinals in April -- head coach Jesse Marsch wanted to rest his regulars for a vital quarterfinal series against Tijuana (Mexico). He decided to start primarily a reserve team lineup against Portland. Mines was included and made an impact early.
That impact came barely 18 minutes after kickoff as the 5-9, 140-lb. forward slipped home an Alejandro Romero Gamarra feed at the far right post past goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. He dedicated the goal to his mother. Mines ran toward the right corner of the north end of the stadium, put his right hand up to his head, mimicking making a call on his cell phone, while he raised his left arm in triumph.
“My mom always calls me before a game,” he said. “So, it’s for her. I’m truly grateful.”
So was Melitsanopoulos. "I just think all you had to see was Ben's reaction and how he cared about it after he scored," he said. "Just the passion on his face and what it meant to him. Hopefully, that's one moment of many."
Mines became the fifth-youngest player in Red Bulls history to start a match, and the third-youngest in club history to score a goal. He is also the 15th-youngest player to score in the league’s 23 seasons. Among players making their full debut, Mines was the fifth-youngest of all-time – the second-youngest making his first professional start.
“For a 17-year-old, he’s fit right in,” Marsch said. “He’s not intimidated. He’s ready for this challenge. He’s excited. I met with him and his mom in the off-season, and just wanted to make sure that, we were all making the right decision to bring him in as a Homegrown player. Even in that meeting, I could see how driven he was to make this move.”
Breaking into the lineup on a regular basis could be a greater challenge for Mines on the talent-laden Red Bulls, especially when they have the high-scoring Bradley Wright-Phillips up front. For the team's 3-0 home win over Minnesota United on March 24, Mines was on the bench.
Now, how many 17-year-olds can say that?
It was another step in the right direction in a professional career that has gotten off on the right foot.