It was Saturday night and the Red Bulls were opening their new stadium with a friendly against Brazilian club Santos.
As the camera rolled with the new Red Bull Arena framed in the background, Shep Messing did his pre-game banter for MSG Network even as thoughts raced through the former New York Cosmos goalkeeper’s mind.
“As a former Cosmos player, along with several others there Saturday evening, we were proud to be a small part of it [Red Bull Arena opener],” Messing said.
In his heart, he felt a sense of pride. Back when Messing began playing professional soccer nearly 40 years ago, a moment like this wasn’t possible.
Soccer was a fledgling sport back then and the New York Cosmos were the biggest draw of the now defunct NASL. The globetrotting team had many of the biggest names in international soccer, from Pele and Carlos Alberto to Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia.
The investment made by Red Bull into constructing a stunning soccer specific stadium, splashing down $200 million dollars to build a 25,000 seat cathedral to the sport, is in large part due to the foundation laid by the Cosmos.
And Messing was struck with that fact on Saturday night, even while providing on-air commentary of the friendly.
“The Cosmos deserve their place in history as a catalyst for the explosion of professional soccer in the United States,” Messing said. “In my heart, I feel that without their impact, there might not be MLS as we see it today.”
Messing was a part of those famed Cosmos’ teams in the mid-70’s that took the nation by storm. The team would routinely sell-out Giants Stadium and barnstormed the world to raucous crowds. He remembers the crazy fans who would throng the team bus outside their hotel and the stream of celebrities, dignitaries and rock stars who wanted to meet the team.
But he also remembers the time when the league folded and Messing, who at one point was the highest paid American in the NASL, was forced to play indoor soccer. This past Saturday night’s sold-out crowd proved a stark contrast to the dark days of soccer after the NASL’s collapse, days the keeper experienced all too well.
“Giants Stadium, as I got to experience it as a player in front of capacity crowds, was incredibly powerful. But without the crowds, as we have seen it for so many years, it was too often a sad place to be,” Messing said. “On the contrary, Red Bull Arena is an elegant, futuristic home built by soccer people, for a soccer team, designed for soccer fans.”