His career in Pittsburgh was barely a blip on the radar. It lasted all of three games. And yet there can be little debate that in the history of Pittsburgh soccer, his brief presence makes him the most famous player ever to play the game professionally for a club in the Steel City.
Over the length of a pair of 10-day contracts just prior to Christmas during the 1984-85 Major Indoor Soccer League season, Shep Messing was the goalkeeper for the Pittsburgh Spirit. The man who’d won the North American Soccer League’s Soccer Bowl title in 1977 with the New York Cosmos, playing behind Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia Carlos Alberto and Franz Beckenbauer, ever so briefly stood between the posts in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh goalkeeper Joe Papaleo suffered an injury. The Spirit were in search of a goalkeeper. Messing, 35, had been forced out by the New York Arrows – curiously, David Brcic, who’d end up as the Spirit goalkeeper in 1985-86, was one of the two who beat out Messing for his spot in New York.
Messing could perhaps best be described as hired hands. “If your goaltending goes down, just call me, and my gloves and I will fly out tomorrow,” Messing boasted to Associated Press at the time.
Messing went 1-1 in his short stay with the Spirit.
“The Pittsburgh situation was ideal for me,” Messing recalled. “They spent a lot of money to bring me out there for just 20 days. I was happy I could win for them. They were a first-class organization.”
A Star Stopper
Were there legalized sports betting across the United States during the 1970s, the smart money would’ve been on Messing’s side to win each season.
Messing was the most dominant goalkeeper in the MISL for several seasons. He was named to the MISL All Star team in 1979, 1980 and 1981. He was selected the championship MVP in 1979 as the Arrows won the title.
Messing’s NASL resume was also impressive. He posted a league-leading 1.24 goals-against average with the 1976 Boston Minutemen. In 1978, he signed with the Oakland Stompers for $100,000. At the time, it made him the highest-paid player in the league.
The former goalkeeper is enshrined in the New York Sports Hall of Fame, Nassau County Hall of Fame and National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Messing has been named a candidate on the National Soccer Hall of Fame veterans ballot for 2020.
“For me it would be perhaps the greatest honor that I ever had in sports, next to winning the championship for Pele in the final game,” Messing told NewYorkCosmos.com, referring to Pele’s final game in the 1977 Soccer Bowl.
“But I do want to mention the Coronavirus and what’s going on today. It’s pretty hard to even think or give a quote about a possible induction into the Hall of Fame. This is kind of a reset for the whole world.
“I care much more about this being done and lives being saved than any Hall of Fame.”
Messing played for Team USA at the 1971 Pan-American Games and at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics. In fact, the Munich Massacre, in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the Olympic Village, took place just 30 yards from Messing’s room.
“It really forged a greater Jewish identity for myself at that moment than I ever had before,” Messing said. “That was a turning point in my life as an athlete – and as a Jew. Words really can’t describe it.
“Two German soldiers there with machine guys, saying come with them. We have to get the athletes to safety.
“Then I realized that they were rounding up the Jewish athletes.”
Voice Of Soccer
Messing, 70, still maintains a presence in the beautiful game as a broadcaster. He calls New York Red Bulls MLS games on the MSG Network. He began as an analyst on MISL games for ESPN.
Messing has also handled the microphone at the 1986, 2002, 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups for ESPN and called soccer matches at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympic Games for NBC.