Shep Messing Talks Hofstra, Long Island and the Early Years with the Cosmos, PT. 2
In part one of our interview with Shep Messing, the former Cosmos goalkeeper spoke about how he ended up playing for the Cosmos at Hofstra Stadium, just minutes from where he grew up. Now in part two, he speaks about the history of soccer on Long Island and what he would like to see the Cosmos achieve in 2013.
New York Cosmos: Was the Long Island soccer community as strong back then as it is now? Did kids start to play the sport, after the Cosmos started playing there?
Shep Messing: I think I am biased about it but you could probably go back and look at the stats and Long Island Junior Soccer was nothing before the New York Cosmos. In high school, there were a couple of local clubs, but the explosion of Long Island Junior Soccer was directly correlated to the New York Cosmos.
Gordon Bradley was living in Massapequa and organizing clubs all over, from Hicksville to Massapequa, to Glen Cove to East Meadow to Carle Place to Albertson. None of that was there when I grew up, so it’s not a coincidence that the explosion of kids playing soccer, started with the New York Cosmos.
We were literally out five nights a week making appearances in communities, giving clinics. Not to five hundred kids, but to six kids or seven kids or ten kids. That’s really what I respected most about Bradley, who I saw in later years with Pelé in front of 77,000 people, putting on clinics in Japan and South America and all over where the Cosmos traveled. But he was no different than when he was with five kids in Massapequa.
So I think that the explosion of soccer in New York, and on Long Island, was directly related to the Cosmos. Not just what we did on the field, but what we did in the community.
NYC: How do you believe that the Cosmos can make similar connections in the community in Long Island in 2013?
SM: I think the Cosmos can do, and should do exactly what we did back in those days at Hofstra, connect with the community. A club can’t be hypothetically manufactured and marketed. It’s has to be a real connection to the fans. I’m hoping that’s what these Cosmos are able to do.
NYC: What would you like to see the Cosmos achieve at Hofstra in 2013?
SM: I know exactly what I think the players should aspire for in the first season and it’s not about winning games–look I want to win every game and I want to win championships, nobody’s more competitive than me–but I think that’s almost irrelevant this season for the New York Cosmos. What I think would be considered a success is making a sincere connection with the Tristate area, not just Long Island. I want to see people from Queens and Brookyn and the Bronx and Manhattan, identifying, connecting, coming to see the New York Cosmos.
New York’s the toughest place in the world for professional sports, and it’s the greatest. My measure of success is hard to measure because it’s not about wins and losses, it’s not about trophies or titles, it’s the connection, it’s a real sincere, honest connection with the great fans that are here, waiting to make that connection.
NYC: What was your initial reaction when you heard the Cosmos were returning to Hofstra?
SM: My initial reaction was, this ownership group knows what they’re doing. That was the first reaction. Because really, there’s really no other place that it should start. I mean it’s obviously got the historical relevance, but it shows we’re not here for the short term. We’re here for the long term.
NYC: For the future Cosmos players that will be wearing the same famous jersey as you did, playing at the same stadium, do you have any advice for them?
SM: Read the book and do the opposite. [Laughs] … Look, I look back and think I was the luckiest guy in the world because I was playing on the New York Cosmos with Pelé, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer and everybody else who came through.
So for the players that set foot on the field for the first time, wearing a New York Cosmos jersey at Hofstra, I do not expect them to know the history inside and out, but be aware of it, be proud of it, and take advantage of it. This is their time in the sun, so make something of it.