A crowd estimated between 800 to 900 individuals spilled out onto the main playing area of the Independence Events Center Thursday night as the MISL champion Missouri Comets gathered to share the championship cup with their fans.
“You know, when we won this cup, it was special,” Comets coach Vlatko Andonovski said, “but it did not feel like a real championship until tonight – something was missing. Now I know what it was – our great fans. Tonight we get to share the cup with our fans!”
That brought a huge ovation from the crowd, many of which were on hand back when the original Kansas City Comets opened play in Kemper Arena in the early 1980s.
The Missouri Comets won the first championship cup in the four-year history of team last Sunday with a dramatic 6-4 mini-game win in Baltimore. Most in attendance Thursday night watched the game on their home computer or laptops.
They were able to share in the joy of the first championship in Eastern Jackson County with the IEC ceremony, which was slated to begin at 6 p.m.
However, it started a few minutes late.
When Danny Waltman, the winningest goalkeeper in the league, took to the microphone, he explained why.
“We're a little late because of me,” he said sheepishly. “I had the cup, and I was a little bit late getting here. When we came back from Baltimore I was at the airport, and the cup was there and I thought, 'I've been in this league 10 years and this is my first championship.
“I'm taking you home with me.”
Suddenly Waltman stepped back from the microphone and fought back tears.
A loud voice from the back of the crowd yelled out, “Danny Waltman!”
That was followed by a familiar cheer, one that followed one of Waltman's acrobatic saves on the same floor the fans were standing on.
“I didn't know this was going to get so emotional,” said Waltman, who gained his composure and gave a heart-felt thank you to the City of Independence, the Comets’ front office staff and his teammates.
“When this place is rocking, there is no better place to play in the MISL,” Waltman said as he pointed toward the larger-than-expected crowd. “What about this place? What about you fans? You are the best! And I have to thank everyone at Shocking Prices. They are like family to me. I've never had so much furniture in my life.”
The crowd erupted, setting the stage for the man of the hour, MISL Championship Series MVP and UMKC grad Brian Harris.
Harris, a defender who led the MISL in 3-point goals this season, had a spectacular playoff run that culminated with the game-winning 2-point goal in the mini-series win.
“I had a 45-minute speech prepared but Vlatko covered most of what I was going to say,” quipped Harris, who was clean shaven after cutting off his Paul Bunyan-esque playoff beard. “I might have scored the game-winning goal, but it doesn't mean anything if Lucas (Rodriguez) and Stefan (St. Louis) don't score earlier goals and if Danny doesn't make all those great saves.
“We won this championship as a team. We won because of these guys.”
He then turned to point to his teammates, who were standing behind him on the podium that also featured Independence Mayor Don Reimal and Comets officials.
“Thank you to the City of Independence for building the best arena in the MISL,” Harris said. “Thank you for being the best fans. Tonight reminds me of a 6-year-old kid in St. Louis who used to go to St. Louis Ambush soccer camps to get autographs.
“Now, that 6-year-old kid is saying thank you for making this a season we're never forget.”
After the player speeches, the Comets signed autographs, posed for photos and mingled with the fans for more than two hours.
“I'm having the best time of my life,” said team captain Vahid Assadpour, who got the team off to a hot start with an MISL-record three 3-point goals in a 15-8 victory over Milwaukee in the semifinals. “We have wanted to share this championship with our fans, and tonight we get to do it. I don't know about the other players, but I may never go home!”