Moments after an emotionally charged, fight-marred 15-8 victory over the defending champion Baltimore Blast Friday night at the Independence Events Center, the Missouri Comets celebrated on the field, in the stands and at their post-game autograph session as they took a 1-0 lead in the MISL Championship Series.
It was the first time this season the Comets had defeated the Blast and scored more than four points in a game against the No. 1 defensive team in the MISL.
After the Blast took a quick 4-0 lead, Missouri scored five consecutive 3-point goals, with team captain Vahid Assadpour getting the hat trick and leading the Comets' offense against the Blast's backup goaltender Troy Hernandez.
“It doesn't matter who is in goal,” Assadpour said after shaking hands with fans as he circled the field, “that is a quality team, a championship caliber team. What we did tonight is special, very special. But we have to remember the biggest game is yet to come.”
The Blast play host to the Comets Sunday afternoon in Baltimore. If the Blast win the regulation game, a 15-minute mini-game to immediately follow will decide the MISL champion.
When asked why MISL Goalkeeper of the Year William Vanzela did not make the trip to Independence, Blast coach Danny Kelly said, “He wasn't feeling well.”
None of the Blast were feeling well after the beating they took Friday night.
“I love to say this – again, and again and again – defense, defense, defense!” said Comets goalkeeper Danny Waltman, who shut out the Blast in the second and third periods. “ We won every 50/50 ball, we blocked shots, we played with so much intensity – and the end result is that we are a win away from our first championship.
“When they scored those two early goals, no one panicked. We knew we could come back and score some goals. And how about Vahid tonight? Was he amazing or what? And our defense – I love our defense. … I LOVE OUR DEFENSE!”
After the Comets shook hands with their fans, many of the players, including Waltman, Assadpour, Brian Harris and Stefan St. Louis, jumped into the stands and celebrated with the LaBarra KC cheering section, that comes with drums, a trombone and energy to root on the Comets.
“I've never felt this good after a win,” said Assadpour, who cut the Comets' deficit to 4-3 with his first 3-point goal at 8:06 of the first quarter.
After a scoreless second period, Assadpour scored his second 3-pointer off a restart at 3:45 of the third quarter. The Comets would never relinquish that lead as St. Louis scored the third consecutive 3-pointer at 4:31 off an assist from Waltman, who was never afraid to leave his spot in front of the net and push the ball up the field.
St. Louis took the bottom of his jersey and used it to cover his face as he flew like a jet plane celebrating his goal. That got the announced crowd of 4,524 into the game raised the intensity level to new heights.
Assadpour then fired a rocket past Hernandez from near the top of the 3-point line for his final goal and Harris touched the ball near the yellow line and followed it all the way to the goal for the final 3-point. It came against a sixth attacker.
“I was going to follow it all the way,” said Harris, who talked about team intensity before the Friday night contest. “We were so intense out there. We had an intensity that was perfect for a game like this. And the way they score goals, you never know when that final 3-point goal is going to be important to the outcome of the game.”
The Blast scored two meaningless goals late, but by then the celebration had already begun in the stands.
“I am so happy for the boys and our fans,” Comets coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “We raised our level of play and played the best game of the season tonight. And you need your best game to beat a team like Baltimore.
“Now, we all have to realize that the biggest game of the year is Sunday, and we have to come out with the same intensity and again, play our best game.”
A halftime altercation between the Comets' John Sosa and the Blast's Adriano Dos Santos started on the field and carried over into an area under the stands. Sosa and Dos Santos were ejected, receiving violent conduct red cards. Both players will be suspended for one game and miss the first game Sunday in Baltimore. They will be eligible for the mini-game if it goes that far.
Because of the altercation, no member of the media was allowed to go back by the locker rooms after the game. The players visited with the media on the field while a large police presence surrounded the Blast locker room.
“Tempers flared – it happens sometimes in big games,” Andonovski said. “Everyone did a very good job keeping it from being worse than it was. The Events Center staff and police stepped in and took control.”
Much like his Comets did, in claiming the biggest win in franchise history.
“Tonight's the biggest so far,” Waltman said, “let's hope the biggest comes Sunday in Baltimore. Then, we can really celebrate.”