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May 19, 2011
Messing on a potential Cosmos-Red Bulls rivalry

Shep Messing during his heyday with the Cosmos.
Shep Messing during his heyday with the Cosmos.
By Michael Lewis Editor

Shep Messing finds himself in a rather unique position when he talks about a potential rivalry between the New York Cosmos and New York Red Bulls.

He tended goal for the legendary Cosmos team in 1977, which boasted the likes of Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto and Franz Beckenbauer.

For the past decade he has been the Red Bulls' TV analyst on MSG.

Messing is convinced that if the Cosmos join MLS as the second team in the metropolitan area market it would be the best thing to happen to the sport. The Cosmos are vying to become the 20th franchise as an expansion team in 2013.

"If Qatar can have the World Cup, then New York, this metropolitan area, can have two teams," he said. "It only helps. Each one helps the other. This would, without question, make this area once again the marquee place in this country for sure and one of the greatest rivalries around the world.

"I don't think there's any question there's an appetite. I don't think there's any question that the fan base is there. We've seen every time Mexico plays in New Jersey, There are enough soccer fans in this metropolitan area. I really believe one would help the other. This would not be Chivas, the LA Galaxy. This would be Red Bulls and the Cosmos. It will be spectacular."

And those derby games, whether they would be at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. or at the Cosmos stadium, most likely somewhere in Queens, would be generate a lot of passion, interest and publicity.

"I've grown up in this market place. Yankees-Mets, Giants-Jets. This city is built for this to happen," Messing said Wednesday. "It would ratchet up everything that Major League Soccer has done, everything the league has hoped for. I don't speak for the league, but they would be thrilled. It would really be a lightning rod to accelerate the popularity of this sport in the city."

Messing has connections to both organizations.

He re-established his association with the Cosmos by joining the organization as an international ambassador.

"For me to work in a group with Pele, Chinaglia and Carlos Alberto, where do I sign on?" Messing said. "We're international ambassadors. We're going to do anything we can to help the current organization bring it back in the right way. I thought it was a once in a lifetime dream to be with the Cosmos. For me, there would be nothing that would make me happier and I speak for the other guys -- for Pele, Giorgio and Carlos -- to help bring it back to New York again."

So, it should not be surprising that Messing is more than a bit bullish on the Cosmos returning.

"I'm confident in the executives that are running the club. Paul Kemsley bought the rights and bought the club and has a team of executives with him," he said. "I'm very confident of what I've seen, heard, they're on the right path. They're in negotiations and in contact with the league office. They're doing their due diligence in terms with the stadium and the other goal is to get that franchise and bring it back within the five boroughs, back to New York. I'm confident. I wouldn't be re-upping with them if I weren't confident."

During their heyday, the Cosmos had a National Team or big-name player at every position, whether it be Johan Neeskens, Vladislav Bogicevic, Eskandarian, Pele, Chinaglia, Alberto or Beckenbauer, to name a few. But that was some 30-35 years ago.

Today, there are different economic realities in the sport. No team, even Barcelona and Manchester, which will tussle in the UEFA Champions League final in London a week from Saturday, could afford that lineup in today's currency.

Even with MLS allowing teams to have as many as three designated players, there still are constraints with its salary cap. So, fans should not expect the same type of high-priced lineup.

Messing certainly understood that.

"That really speaks that the contemporary New York Cosmos are doing," he said. "It's a different landscape right now. I don't think anybody involved with the New York Cosmos is trying to replicate it. I think by bringing us, Pele, Giorgio and Carlos and myself on, they're ensuring we preserve and do justice to the heritage of the team. The way they're going about it will be I'm sure is dramatically different than it was back in our day. That's not necessarily a bad thing. That's a good thing."

Friday is the 38th anniversary of Messing's first game with the Cosmos in 1973. He will visit his high school, The Wheatley School, to mark the occasion. Four years later, he backstopped the club to its second NASL crown in Soccer Bowl '77. He called that game his most memorable moment with the team because the Cosmos won the title in Pele's final competitive match, a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders.

"Just to be a part of that team, that spectacular ride," Messing said. "In the end, we felt a huge responsibility knowing it was Pele's last game and knowing and had do we not do everything for him to go out a champion. When the whistle blew and the game was over, we had won the championship, that moment is etched in my memory. a whole lot of joy along the way, but you do it for Pele and you win the whole thing."

Messing, who works for MSG and not the Red Bulls, said the club did not have problems with his association with the Cosmos.

"They've been actually great about it," he said. "I have discussed it with the Red Bulls and Madison Square Garden. Anything that raises the awareness of soccer in this market is great for the Red Bulls. . . . The Red Bulls have done a spectacular job with the arena, with the team, with the marquee players and they will be the biggest beneficiary if the Cosmos can get that franchise in New York."
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