Shep Messing: “Is New York, strategic? Sure, but there are a lot of cities in the country that are also strategic. So, would I personally love to see it? Absolutely. As part of the front office of the league right now, we’ll evaluate everything else. Do I hope it happens? Sure.” (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Just because Shep Messing is the new chairman of the Major Arena Soccer League, it doesn’t necessarily mean indoor soccer will return to Long Island. But it certainly doesn’t hurt.
There are many factors involved for it to become a reality.
Let’s face it. Life is more expensive in the metropolitan area, whether you live in New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut or Long Island. Just opening the doors of an arena costs more than most venues and areas. Finding the right ownership for the long run and not last for a season or two is vital as well.
Messing, who was named to his new position along with MASL commissioner Keith Tozer and president of media JP Dellacamera Thursday, is best known to local indoor soccer fans as the goalkeeper who backstopped the New York Arrows to the first four Major Indoor Soccer League championships four decades ago. Messing, who grew up in Roslyn, N.Y., is a lifelong Long Island resident.
In an interview with FrontRowSoccer.com Thursday, Messing was asked about the elephant in the room – the possibility of the MASL adding an expansion indoor team at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. or even reviving the New York Arrows.
“It’s a great question. It’s an obvious question because of who I am, where I’m from and who I played for, right?” he said. “I’ll never forget, four championships in a row at the Nassau Coliseum. When we started the league, and I was the first player to sign so it’s an obvious question for me. Putting on my chairman hat, if there’s expansion … it’s got to be strategic. Is New York, strategic? Sure, but there are a lot of cities in the country that are also strategic. So, would I personally love to see it? Absolutely. As part of the front office of the league right now, we’ll evaluate everything else. Do I hope it happens? Sure.”
All potential new owners will need to have deep pockets and will be vetted thoroughly, Messing said.
There are five indoor arenas in the metro area that could host a team. That includes Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. the USB Arena in Elmont, N.Y.(projected to open during the 2021-22 National Hockey League season, and of course, the Nassau Coliseum.
“With this market or any market like New York, you need them to be a partner, not a guy renting out Madison Square Garden, workplace, or the Nassau Coliseum,” Messing said. “You need you need that that arena to be your point. We’re way ahead of ourselves now but to your point. It’s prohibitive to play, and in many cases. We’re going to examine all these things, but if you’re going to come into a market like this, you’re looking for them to be your partner.”
One possibility could be the Brooklyn Nets.
Messing revealed that the National Basketball Association team expressed interest in an indoor franchise at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum when its parent company won the bid to renovate the building in 2015.
Messing said a person in charge of that project was a native New Yorker and “a huge New York Arrows fan.”
“He reached out to me and said, ‘Would you partner up and put a team?’ ” he said. “That’s when we really examined the MASL, and he didn’t feel he was up to the level. I want to put this nicely, up to the professional level. They were ready to do it. So that’s our goal, collectively. Keith, JP and myself … we have a lot of digging to do accumulate information, but they convinced us in discussions a little last month that they were ready for this kind of leadership. Couldn’t be more excited to be doing it.”
Messing said his “most electric weekend” in soccer came during the 1980-81 championship series weekend in St. Louis. This from someone who played on the Cosmos’ 1977 North American Soccer League championship team that included Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Pele, and for someone who participated in the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The MISL Final Four was set up like an NCAA basketball tournament, with the four semifinalists squaring off on in two games on Friday night and the two survivors playing for the title Sunday afternoon.
The Arrows rolled over the Baltimore Blast in the semifinal opener while the host St. Louis Steamers overcame a 6-1 deficit in the fourth quarter to register an emotional, 8-7 extratime victory over the Wichita Wings March 27, 1981. What helped make the comeback unique was that the Checkerdome organist played the Budweiser beer theme every time the Steamers scored during their comeback.
Sunday’s final had its drama as well as perennial scoring champion Steve Zungul tallied with 30 seconds remaining to give the Arrows their third successive crown.
“For me, Cosmos, Pele, Olympics, that weekend was the most electric sports weekend, I’ve ever been in,” he said. “I remember every moment, the crowd, the Budweiser music. I remember the final. Tie game, I made four- or five point-blank saves to keep us in Zungul scores. The most electric sports weekend I’ve ever been involved. That’s what we all want for the MASL. That’s what we want back. We’re going to do everything to get there.”
The Arrows called the Coliseum home from 1978-1984, folding after the 1983-84 season. Zungul, nicknamed “Lord of All Indoors” because of his prolific goal-scoring prowess, became the face of the franchise. The likes of teenage star Branko Segota and Messing were not too far behind.
“As you get older, you get more mellow, but you appreciate them more,” Messing said. “It’s really not about personal accolades, but about going around anywhere and have somebody’s grandkids, saying, ‘Hey, my dad was your biggest fan.’ If I go to a party or a restaurant, it’s not the 10-year-old or 18-year-old or 20-year-old that’s going to know my name. But it’s the 40-45-year-old man or woman. It’s nice. Believe it or not, the nice thing is it touches people’s lives.”