June 19, 2021
SHEP'S ROCHESTER CONNECTION: Messing had his indoor debut there, helped eliminate Lancers from '77 playoffs, returned as the No. 1 goalkeeper
By Michael Lewis
It's funny how life works out and how one thing can build on another.
In his first trip to Rochester in 1975, Shep Messing found himself in the net for the Boston Minutemen, playing against the Rochester Lancers in a North American Soccer League indoor tournament.
"I have some of the best memories in the history of my game from Rochester, and the Rochester Lancers, you know, a big part of my life," he said.
Let us count the ways.
While the Minutemen did not win the competition, Messing fared well enough to become of the top keepers at the cusp of the Major Indoor Soccer League when the league kicked off in 1978.
Little did anyone know then that Messing would return to Rochester several more times.
He came to town was with the New York Cosmos for two seasons. Most notably, his superb performance in the NASL semifinal series opener at Holleder Stadium in 1977, which won him man of the match honors. The Cosmos qualified for the Soccer Bowl and won the league championship in Pele's final season.
"I had the flu. I was sick," Messing told Soccer is a Kick in the Grass radio show co-hosts Andrew Battisti and Joe Sirianni about the playoff game, last Monday. "Holleder stadium, unbelievable atmosphere. I mean a packed house I felt like I was in Europe. I never forgot it was my first taste of Rochester. Really the sophisticated knowledgeable soccer audience, but we were getting 70,000 people in New York in the cosmos, but the crowd in Rochester sounds to me like I was in Europe, and I loved it. I never forgot that game."
Two years later, Messing returned to Rochester for more than a game or two a season. He backstopped the net for the blue and gold of the Lancers.
After he left the Cosmos and then the Oakland Stompers and signed with the Arrows in 1978, Messing said he was asked "what I wanted to do outdoors."
"I said I want to play for the Rochester Lancers," he added. "That one season I played for the Rochester Lancers, a very important part of my life. My daughter was born that year. The atmosphere was terrific. The team was - I wish we had won it all - a good team. But it's an important part of my life."
Messing, the new chairman of the Major Arena Soccer League and TV analyst for Red Bulls games on MSG Networks, had a unique clause in his contract that allowed him to fly in for games. He stayed at the Americana Hotel in downtown Rochester.
"I'll never forget walking down the street in Rochester," he said. "You know me. I didn't do curfew. The game was over, probably two o'clock in the morning, and I bump into Ron Newman, and we ended up going into the bar at the hotel and stayed there until they kicked us out."
Newman, who directed the San Diego Sockers to 10 indoor championships, was coaching the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at the time.
"Another night I was walking down the street, at 1, 2 a.m. in the morning and who was that long haired crazy great player in England? Frank Worthington," Messing said. "We both had a few drinks and were walking in opposite directions. Frank sees me, and he fakes a head right like a header like he wants me to dive. So, I put my arm around him. We went to a bar and stayed up talking.
"Great team, great fans. Great atmosphere. you guys know it. I mean, to this day, I believe one of the best soccer cities in the country."
While Messing made short visits to Rochester, there was a Messing in town most of the time. Shep's brother, Roy, was the Lancers' back-up keeper. Roy never played. Shep played in 29 games, missing only one match, the April 15, 1979 game in Tulsa in which there was a players strike. Roy did not travel for that encounter.
Roy Messing played at Yale University and had a six-year indoor career.
"I didn't miss a minute and every game," Shep said. "My brother would come to me: 'Are you going to get hurt? When am I going to get off the bench?' He begged me. I said, 'Hey, you got to take the job from me. I'm not giving it to you. it was great having my brother as a teammate."
In an announcement that included long-time coach Keith Tozer as commissioner and JP Dellacamera as president of communications/media, Messing was named league chairman. They took over their respective positions Tuesday, June 15.
They hope to raise the level of the modern indoor game in which the league will grow with greater salaries for the players, star performers and raise its level of awareness in the media and TV.
"There was a void in the marketplace in pro soccer when indoor soccer kicked off," Messing said. "I was the first player that jumped leagues. They needed one name player to jump leagues and play indoors."
After the NASL folded after the 1984, the MISL was the only true professional soccer in the USA.
"There were some semi-pro leagues, there are other pro outdoor leagues, but indoor soccer became the thing," Messing said.
"You know that expression, a rising tide lifts all boats, the way Major League Soccer has prospered in the last 25 years? I think indoor soccer going to benefit from it. And it's not overnight.
"I want some stars to play in this league, and we're going to look all around the world for those players to make some moves. The indoor game as you know, unbelievable entertainment. I mean, it's spectacular. The noise, the acoustics, the music, 40-50 shots in the game. Goalkeepers flying. It's crazy. But you need stars to attract anybody to pay a ticket and come watch and that's what we're going to go look for."
The modern-day Lancers have competed in indoor soccer for most of the past decade, most recently in the MASL. Messing said that the first person he was going to call was Lancers owner Salvatore "SoccerSam" Fantauzzo, one of the great indoor soccer promoters.
Messing, who could not attend his induction into the Lancers Wall of Fame in 2018 due to previous commitments, said he would travel to Rochester for a formal induction later this year.
Since the announcement earlier this month, Tozer, Dellacamera and Messing have been inundated with congratulation calls, emails and texts.
Messing said that the MASL has "been lying dormant for so long. I mean big-time indoor soccer."
"MASL has done a terrific job and the owners, keeping it alive. But it's not where it should be, where the sport deserves to be. We spent five days, hearing from everybody who wants to help: from sponsors to television. We're pleasantly surprised. We've hunkered down, making plans to raise the level of the league, to raise the quality of the players to have better marketing sponsorship television. We're all over this and I can't tell you how excited we are."