I’m not happy when my work gets in the way of my enjoyment. My body will be in Chester, Pa., in October but my heart will be in Frisco, Tex., which will host the NASL’s 50th anniversary event. My role as the analyst on the Madison Square Garden Network for New York Red Bulls game means I’ll miss what promises to be a wonderful event. I’ll especially miss being able to reconnect and reminisce with so many old friends, teammates and opponents. Sometimes work comes first. Sometimes.
Soccer has been his life, from his days growing up on Long Island, to playing at Harvard University and for the U.S. Olympic team, halcyon days with the Cosmos and a stellar indoor career with the long-gone New York Arrows. Now, as Shep Messing prepares for the launch in early April of a new MLS-centric show on SiriusXM satellite radio (7-9 p.m. Eastern, with his on-air sidekick Steve Cangelosi), he strives to look forward, not back. But. …
“I try not to look back in life,” Messing said. “I grew up a Yankees fan and every year remember watching those great old-timers games. I swore to myself that if I became a professional athlete I would never take part in a event like that.
“I never look back, but I do look back at the NASL and what it did for my life. When I think back, I come away with two snapshots.”
One had to do with a long-ago stop at a Burger King on Hempstead Turnpike, the other had to do with THE king … Pelé.
“I got out of Harvard and played in the Olympics [those infamous 1972 Summer Games in Munich]. I come home to Fordham Law School and meet Gordon Bradley, who tells me about this team and would I like a tryout. I go to Hofstra for three days and after Gordon asks me to join him at the nearby Burger King. We have cheeseburgers, Cokes and fries. He said I did pretty well in goals and offers $2,300. I say for each game? Each week? He says, no, for the season. I told him I’d think about it. He takes a bit out of his burger and says, ‘I couldn’t care less.’ I always think about that moment.”
Fast-forward a few years on a journey from Hofstra to Yankee Stadium to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Oct. 2, 1977.
“The second was Pelé’s final game,” Messing said. “77,000 people. It was like a movie. It’s so hard to describe. From a cheeseburger on Hempstead Turnpike to 77,000. It was unfathomable to me. The memory of a lifetime.
“I wouldn’t trade my experience for all the money in the world or playing for Manchester United today. I think Franz [Beckenbauer] said it best, and it still makes my hair stand up. He said ‘I won the World cup, championships with Bayern Munich, the European championship, but the Cosmos were the best time in my life. In Germany all the players were German, but with the Cosmos there were 14 different nationalities on a team with Pelé. It was the best time in my life.’ For Franz to say that is unbelievable.”
“Like every other guy who played in the NASL, I take pride in the part we played in soccer in this country,” Messing said. “The NASL was a life-changer for so many guys.”