The voices of the Red Bulls – Steve Cangialosi and Shep Messing. (Photo courtesy of Shep Messing)
By Michael Lewis
In these modern times and age of quick change, and here today, gone tomorrow, two decades of working together can seem like a lifetime.
Take, for example, two men who have been doing it since, like forever.
Shep Messing and Steve Cangialosi seemingly have been around forever, announcing Red Bulls games, home matches at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., and many away contests from the MSG Networks headquarters at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.
They have been a font of knowledge, spot-on play-by-play and analysis, storytelling and entertainment for the Red Bulls faithful who come to live with the hopeful ups and die with the disappointing downs of the club since Major League Soccer’s inaugural season in 1996.
It has been a labor of love, although their love affair with the team on the network, which will come to an end on Sunday afternoon.
It will be their final regular season broadcast ever on the 45-year-old network after Apple and Major League Soccer secured a 10-year, reported $2.8 billion deal in which all future league games would be streamed on the Apple TV website. It is considered a landmark deal in sports, although each of the 28 MLS teams don’t know if their announcers will return to work their games in 2023.
It likely will be an emotional and bittersweet afternoon for Messing, Cangialosi and Michelle Gingras, who joined the threesome as host of the pre- game post-game shows in 2018.
“It’s the end of an era for sure,” Messing said.
Emotions aside, they are professionals, and they will prepare and call Sunday’s 2:30 p.m. ET game against Charlotte FC at RBA like as any other contest.
“Many people are asking the same thing. What are we thinking? What are we feeling? What are the emotions?” Messing said. “Our first answer is: Look, we’re really tried all these years to be highly professional and we try not to think about it. We still have a job to do. Our first purpose is having a great game and connecting with the fans, to the supporters who are watching our broadcasts.
“Just like when you are a player you’ve blocked out things that could detract from your game, we feel the same way. Steve and I have had joked about it, talked about and say hey, ‘I don’t want to think about it. We have a job to do.’ So, this week in particular, we’re going about our routine.
“I try and treat this the way I treat everything else in my life. I don’t look at what I did. I don’t look what tomorrow brings. I enjoy what’s going on right now. So definitely a big week, definitely some emotions involved. But the underlying theme for me and MSG over 25 years is pride in the job we’ve done for the team, for the fans, and the friendships that are invaluable that I now have.”
On Wednesday morning, they took part in MSG’s weekly conference call to talk things over, take notes and go over some videotape.
“We don’t want anything to get in the way of the job we have to do,” Messing said. “But we’re human. and it’s emotional. No doubt about it. The thing about been lucky enough as we have been to be broadcasting in our hometown with our hometown team for so many years is the connection and the relationships.
“We have to separate the close personal emotions of something that’s going to end. I’m not going to see Steve and Michelle every week anymore. We separate the emotional part, which is heartfelt, and we stick to the job that we’re lucky to have.”
Messing, who turns 73 on Sunday, said he considered Cangialosi one of his closest friends, “not just a broadcast partner.”
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he added. “Look who I’ve been with. I’ve been with JP Dellacamera, the godfather of broadcasting and then Steve Cangialosi. I was with Tina Cervasio and now Michelle Gingras; both women who I love. So, the relationships over 25 years and now wow, 20 years with Steve in the last five with Michelle. I consider them family and I think they feel the same way about me.”
Ditto for Cangialosi, who has seen teams come and go over the years.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done,” he said. “I’ve been at MSG for 22 years. That means I’ve been there long enough to see a day when we lost broadcast rights to the Yankees and the Mets. I remember the reverence that those TV crews treated the product in those final weeks and months and days. I said we have to match that. We have to try to go out with the very best broadcast we’re capable of doing this year because we owe that to our fans. That’s really where my focus has been.”
During a Tuesday interview, Cangialosi admitted he did not know when the end will hit him.
“We’re in that last five-day stretch. I guess it’ll hit me when I finally get up out of the chair at about 5:30 on Sunday afternoon,” he said. “I hopefully I haven’t called my last soccer game. But yeah, this was really, really special in my life.”
Gingras also said she planned to bring her usual game, but she understood the finality of it.
“It’s emotional for me from the standpoint I love covering them. If this is a great thing for the league then I’m overall I’m happy to see it moving forward,” she said, referring to the Apple deal. “From the standpoint of just us not being around and us not getting to be together because we’re not covering the Red Bulls anymore, that part is more emotional.
“I’ve only been with them – it feels like forever – but it’s only been five years. I really say this sincerely. We’ve loved covering the Red Bulls. I know I can speak for Steve and Shep on that as well. Like it’s been a really, really fun time with this group. It feels surreal in a way because we have been doing this every year. We get to the end of whatever our deals are with the network and then we always end up coming back on the air. It’s going to be very bittersweet.
“We’re going to try to enjoy the moment on Sunday. Even if we get a playoff game – there is still a feeling of like: Okay, this is the last the last game for us, at least in the regular season.”
Ah, about Gingras’ last comment, we’ll get to that in a while.
Steve Cangialosi, Michelle Gingras and Shep Messing. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Gingras)
They’re not just co-workers
If you have watched at least one Red Bulls telecast, you can tell the conversations between the three personalities come across as natural. There is one good reason. Cangialosi, Messing and Gingras are friends – outside the broadcast booth.
Both men attended Gingras’ wedding a few years ago.
“I’ve only been with them – it feels like forever – but it’s only been five years,” Gingras said. “But still, it’s definitely an end of an era. And we have just loved I mean; I really say this sincerely like we’ve loved covering the Red Bulls. I know I can speak for Steve and Shep on that as well. Like it’s been a really, really fun time with this group. They’re just such great guys.”
And the feeling was mutual.
“Michelle is one of the most likable people you’ll find in a business that lends itself to lost tempers,” Cangialosi said. “In a competitive environment she’s a terrific teammate.”
Gingras, 32, has witnessed how Cangialosi and Messing work a game and talk to each other on and off air.
“That’s really hard to fake, especially if you watch them go back and forth with one another,” she said. “I think they’re the best in the business at it. They’re so seamless. Steve is so prepared and so is Shep. They do their homework, but then they just have a conversation. It’s very unique that they can do that.
“They make the viewer feel like they’re the third person in the room, which is really very difficult to do naturally. That’s something I’ve always really admired about them. I try to bring that to the pregame show as well, that same sort of laid-back familiarity. Let’s talk about the team. Let’s break this down, but at the same time, we want you to know that we’re having fun. We hope you’re having fun too, watching this.”
In some respects, it’s like slipping into a comfortable old shoe.
They might make it look easy, there is much work involved.
When he went to the broadcast booth after retiring as a top-flight goalkeeper after playing in the North American Soccer League and Major Indoor Soccer, Messing said he was given very little advice.
“Ex-athletes are often just thrown up into the booth, assuming they can do a good job,” he said. “But I’ve studied it, I’ve worked at it and those elements [that] are critical to having a seamless fun, easy to watch broadcast if you work on a personal relationship and at the professional technical part.”
That has translated to a seamless working relationship with Cangialosi.
“I’m trying to couch how to say it without offending anybody,” Messing said. “He for me at the moment is by far the best play-by-play announcer in league, in the country. I just think he’s the best of the best.
“Early in relationship with MSG and Red Bull, I would give him tips or what I thought was constructive help, and he would soak it up like a sponge. He probably didn’t need it from me, but he’s my partner. I’m trying to help. He does the same for me.
“The relationship blossomed to the point where I told him two weeks ago that one of the hardest things for any play-by-play guy to do, who hasn’t really played the game at a high level is the anticipation and the expectation when a moment is going to happen. When that entry pass is going to be put in and the guy’s going to strike it and the goal was going to be scored. It’s almost a sixth sense of feeling the game. He’s got his finger on the pulse of the game that he can anticipate that moment and nail it with the call. That’s an art.
“The friendship was just organic. I love the guy. I’d do anything for him, and he would for me. We socialize. We can’t wait to see each other. We hang out. If you have a friend like Steve Cangialosi, you’re lucky guy. It’s been an unbelievable time that we’ve spent together.
“And Michelle, the last five years, she’s fit like a glove. We love her. She’s also a rock star in broadcasting. Hopefully it’s not the end of soccer fans seeing Steve and Michelle and hopefully myself. It’s just it’s the end at MSG.”
Cangialosi felt the same way.
“Whether we’re in season or not in season, we talk a lot,” he said. “He is a tremendous friend.
“We’ve been doing this in some form together for more than 20 years. So, we should be able to read off each other. We should be more adept at not stepping on each other. He never tries to dominate the broadcast. He lets it breathe. He’s one of those people that speaks when it’s necessary to speak in his mind.”
Cangialosi, 58, related a story when someone told him a long time ago that it was best “to be the second smartest guy in the room.”
“Every time I’ve stepped into the booth with him, who am I working with?” he said. “I’m working with a guy who’s Harvard educated, who’s well read, well-traveled, and he’s extremely intelligent. I’ve benefited from that through the years. One of the underrated things about Shep is that when he’s got nothing to do, he’s always reading the rulebook, the nuances of the rulebook. He’s been around the game a really long time, and he’s still doing that, which I appreciate.”
In November 2021, the Red Bulls honored Messing and Cangialosi for working 20 years together, which stands out as one of Gingras’ favorite moments.
“That to me was a really special game to be a part of, just because I know what they mean to the fan base and for them to get that recognition which they would never seek out on their own,” she said. “They just go about their business every day. I would love to do nothing more than just continue to pump them up because I’m so indebted to them. I got to introduce that segment, which lead to the celebration and to the gifts that they [the Red Bulls] gave them. That was pretty meaningful.”
There have been a few playful moments as well.
When Dellacamera was the MetroStars’ announcer, Cangialosi related this story about Messing, a reptile collector.
“Whenever we went to Foxborough back in the day to do a MetroStars-Revolution game, or a Red Bulls-Revolution game, he would stop at a reptile store,” he said. “I remember once he bought a reptile at this place. It was in a cardboard box. You would think it was a sandwich box. He brought it into the booth and JP Dellacamera saw him open the box and he jumped out of his skin when he saw it was a reptile. We got a lot of we got a lot of mileage out of that one, I guess.”
Thanks for the memories
While the team has fallen short of bringing home the MLS Cup trophy to Red Bull Arena, there have been plenty of memorable matches and moments they have called through the years.
Cangialosi selected the first Supporters’ Shield in 2013, when the Red Bull recorded a 5-2 win over the Chicago Fire at RBA.
“It was almost like New Year’s Eve at 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon in October,” he said.
He added that “was so tremendously special because it was obviously a team fueled by Thierry Henry, one of the greatest players of all time. It was a team led by a legend in the minds of the fans – Mike Petke. They gravitated to him. I had not seen them gravitate to any other person connected with the franchise and this team had some really good coaches.”
Cangialosi later added with a chuckle: “We might surpass that, who knows?”
That will depend on how the team fares in this year’s playoffs and beyond.
As a former pro who played competed Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia, Messing said that he looks for the big moments the best players will produce.
“I like the big moments from big players, so it’s not one game I remember,” he said. “It’s a Thierry Henry goal or Rafa Marquez red card. David Beckham and that wild game at Giants Stadium. I love the big moments, big players and the drama. Juan Pablo Angel with a set piece. Dax McCarty, it was a diving header in that crazy game. Luis Robles, so many big saves.”
And as a team moment?
“The Supporters’ Shield was a big moment and Steve’s call of that at the end was to me classic,” Messing said.
Gingras wasn’t around for the Henry era (2010-2014) as she had a more “modern” take.
“Jesse Marsch’s final season before he left like that was obviously a really memorable run,” she said of the 2018 campaign. “There were some definite like milestones with Chris Armas that were big wins for him. Bradley Wright Phillips’ last game. I mean, that was a that was a big one. That game at the end of the  season, when Luis Robles and Brian Wright Phillips hugged each other. In hindsight, we ended up realizing that was a pretty momentous occasion.”
Both players were let go by the club after that campaign.
Behind the scenes
Once a week, twice or even thrice over a seven- or eight-day period, we see the friendly faces and listen to the voices of Cangialosi, Messing and Gingras. But there has been a crew behind the scenes we never see, which makes everything possible.
Kyle Kearney is the Red Bulls producer. “He’s been a joy to work with,” Cangialosi said, speaking for the trio.
John Gallagher is telecasts’ longtime director. “One of the best that there is,” Cangialosi added.
“Without question, those guys are fantastic,” Cangialosi said. “The look of our broadcast is something they’re responsible for. Not us. They have been fantastic. For that we are tremendously grateful.
“We’re the ones that put the product in front of you or deliver it I guess you could say but the crew behind the scenes are the ones who are doing everything to make us look good. We come prepared. We do our homework. I’d say the three of us. none of us ever just mail it in and whatever expect like the producer to do anything for us that you know we it’s a team effort for sure.
“It doesn’t get across the finish line unless we have everyone kind of clicking together and working together. This just speaks to honestly to MSG in general. The people behind the scenes are just like salt of the earth people and Red Bulls. The crew with Red Bull has just been so meaningful to me, especially the MSG crew.”
Even former members of the MSG Network crew make contributions. Long-time producer Eddie Caggianelli retired as the producer retired two years ago, but he still helps sends the announcers research.
“Not three or four days go by when he’s not sending us links to things that we should know about the game that’s coming up,” Cangialosi said. “It could be a feature story about somebody on Charlotte FC. It could be about, hey, did you see this trend? Footballref.com. Those are the people you want to work with. You want to work with the people who are all in.”
The crew was a great support staff for Gingras.
“I can’t say enough about them,” she said. “They’re the reason we look as good as we do on air. It truly is a collaborative effort. I love that that that crew feels like family just as much as Steven and Shep do. It’ll be that will be probably more difficult or equally as difficult to saying goodbye to the fans … but we won’t be together in this capacity.
“Those people really made me feel like I was good at what I was doing. They were reassuring. They helped me laugh at myself. They really helped me grow as a journalist.”
Later this month, the Red Bulls-MSG crew has planned a dinner in New York City.
“We’ve talked about the whole MSG crew at one point next week or the week after, because there is not only a possibility, but a probability that we’ll do a playoff game on the 15th if they finish, I think, in fourth or fifth,” Messing said. “We’re planning a dinner in the city with the MSG producers, directors, cameramen, audio, everybody.”
Will they take a bite out of the Apple?
A new era for MLS will begin in 2023, when Apple takes over every team’s game telecast, or in this case, streaming on the web.
Like every MLS team’s broadcast crew, the Red Bulls’ crew doesn’t know their fate.
There are so many questions to be answered, most likely after the MLS Cup on Nov. 5.
Will Apple hire them?
Will they be paired as the Red Bulls’ broadcasters?
Will they be broken apart and work other MLS matches?
“I would love to be part of it,” Messing said. “We’ve watched this league grow for 25 years. There’s certain moves and sports and leagues that have changed the landscape. This one [the Apple deal] has the possibility. It’s a monster deal and it’s a worldwide deal. It’s a groundbreaking deal in terms of live sport content. So yes, I’d love to be part of it. Yes, I hope it’s not the last time I’m calling a game in Major League Soccer. I hope there are many more games to come, including Red Bull.”
Cangialosi was interested as well.
“It’s such an exciting project. It really is,” he said. “Along with the 27 other local guys, [ESPN’s Jon] Champion and [FOX’s John] Strong, everybody has had some eye on this. What’s it going to be like? Is there a place for me? We’ll find out.”
Gingras, who does other work for the MSG Network, including New York Rangers hockey games, declined to comment.
Maybe one more last hurrah?
Now, we haven’t forgotten about Gingras and Messing’s comments about the possibility of having one more game.
While it will be the regular-season finale, the band might be getting back together, one more time in the playoffs. It will depend on how the standings work out and what games MLS wants on national TV in the first round.
Naturally, everyone would love to work another game.
So much more is on the line in the playoffs. It’s win or go home, so the drama is ramped up well beyond a regular-season encounter.
“The special games for us, the more meaningful games would be those games where we’re late in the season or sometimes we get to do a first-round playoff game,” Cangialosi said. “We’re hoping to do one this year. We never know when we’re finished. If you look at how MLS is structured, it’s the same thing every year. Week 33 might be our final game. There’s also a small chance we can do an opening -round playoff game, because there’s a local telecast for two of the six first-round games. Don’t get me wrong. We’re going to say goodbye to the fans on Sunday. But there’s a chance we’ll be right back a week later. I hope we are.”
Michelle Gingras, Steve Cangialosi and Shep Messing working the pre-game show at Red Bull Arena. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Gingras)
Some very famous last words
At around 5 p.m., when it comes time for the trio to sign off from the post-game show, it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if it was an emotional farewell.
Whatever Messing, Cangialosi or Gingras plan to say, they hadn’t found the right words yet during their respective interviews earlier this week.
“There’s a lot of preparation we do as everybody does, but moments like that, you try not to prepare for,” Messing said. “It’s got to be from the heart. Sure, we’ll say thank you and goodbye to the fans and to the team and to everybody watching, but it’s not something it’s usually the role of Steve to do that.
“I learned from JP [Dellacmaera] and I told Steve when I got paired with him that it’s his show. It’s the play-by-play guy’s show. I hate when the play-by-play announcer finish and color guy jumps in. To me, it’s two-thirds, one-third me. Steve is calling the game. I’m adding to it. What’s going on and why? It’s usually Steve at the end who’ll wrap it up and only had a final thought. It’ll be spontaneous because it’s got to be real.”
Added Cangialosi: “I’m not there yet. It’s decision day. It’s such a wild day because we’re kind of signing off. We’re already at five o’clock. Chaos in the Western Conference window/ I’ve thought a little bit. I’ll probably wake up Sunday knowing exactly what I want to do.”
Gingras: “I don’t know specifically what I’m going to say. But the message I want to get across is just what an absolute honor it has been to cover this team for the last five years, and how thankful I am and grateful I am to the fan base for welcoming me over the years.”
We’ll just have to wait until 5 p.m. Sunday for that bittersweet farewell.
Here is a story you might be interested in:
HOW THEY GOT THERE: A look at the careers of Cangialosi, Gingras and Messing