Missouri Comets fans hold forward Leo Gibson in great reverence – and for good reason.
He wrapped up a perfect 20-0 regular season with an MASL-record 12 points – eight goals and four assists – in a 17-1 victory over the Tulsa Revolution Sunday at the Independence Events Center.
Thousands of youngsters in Africa, who have never seen Gibson play the game dominates, feel the same way about the native of Liberia. He works tirelessly on the field to help the Comets earn a second straight championship and off the field to collect shoes and medical items for his war-torn homeland through his Kick For Christ charity.
“Leo Gibson is one of the best – maybe the best – individuals I have ever met,” said John Olivarez, who has a collection barrel for used shoes at his Shocking Prices store in Independence.
“When we have Leo out to the store, he is always smiling and so friendly. Fans come and meet him and they can’t believe what a great guy he is. We are so lucky to have someone like Leo with the Comets. They have so many great players, but Leo is a great player and a great humanitarian.”
Away from the game, Gibson visits area schools and churches to spread the gospel, telling anyone who wants to hear about his life in Monrovia. He and his family would sleep outdoors, as gunshots and explosions filled the steamy night air.
If intruders approached his home, Gibson and his family could more easily escape if they were already outside, and that fear and terror helped galvanize Gibson’s passion for helping others.
When the recent Ebola outbreak affected his nation, he not only sought donations of shoes and soccer equipment, but asked for hand sanitizers, sterile gloves and masks to complement the equipment.
The donations filled more than 500 boxes that filled a 20-foot storage container.
“The fans love Leo because of what he does on the field,” Comets coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “We love him for that, too. But we know Leo Gibson the person, and he is so special.
“He truly cares for everyone – here in the States and in Liberia. He is the hardest worker on the team and when practice is over, he works equally hard with his charity and with his youth camps and teams. He never stops – the man is always on the run, doing something to make the lives of the less fortunate better.”
Yet Gibson does not go out of his way to talk about his charitable endeavors. Unlike so many professional athletes who call the media every time they make a staged visit to a hospital or care center, Gibson flies under the radar and takes the personal approach to helping others.
“I am truly blessed,” said Gibson, who was granted refugee status in the United States in 2002, joining his mother, who had already moved here. “I have 11 brothers and sisters in Liberia and I can talk with them via Facebook and the Internet or the phone.
“I know how they are, and I will do anything to help them. But there are so many other people in need, and I want to do my best to help them, too.
“I know that God has a plan, and I trust and believe in God. I just want to do my part, whatever that may be.”
For the next two weeks, Gibson’s part will be practicing with his Comet teammates as they sit through an idle last week of the regular season and then enjoy a bye during the first week of the playoffs.
On March 12, they will play host to the winner of the Chicago-Milwaukee series.
“It was important for us to finish the season strong,” said Gibson, who thrilled fans in the season finale with that 12-point game and a rare bicycle kick goal.
“We did not want to let up after we clinched first place. We wanted to go undefeated and play our best soccer at the end of the season, which we did.”
Gibson’s glittering numbers in the season finale matched his totals from a record-setting regular season.
The 5-foot-6 forward entered the final regular-season finale as the Major Arena Soccer League’s scoring leader, and when it was over, he reigned as the new league’s first points champion – finishing with 93 points on league high totals of 48 goals and 45 assists. His point total was 29 better than the No. 2 scorer, Gordy Gurson of the St. Louis Ambush.
Following his 10th point Sunday, the public address announcer let the fans and Gibson’s teammates know that he was a point away from tying the single-season mark for points with 11.
After a pair of assists from team captain Vahid Assadpour, Gibson broke the scoring record at 11:22 of the fourth quarter.
“The assist had to come from Vahid,” said Gibson, who won a championship in Detroit with Assadpour and goalkeeper Danny Waltman before becoming heart-and-soul players for the Comets. “We are like brothers, but this team is a band of brothers. It was wonderful to see how my teammates wanted to get me the ball so I could break the record, and it was amazing to share that moment with our fans.
“I want to always remember this game. I want to remember how I feel, how the fans feel and the way my teammates helped me enjoy this moment.”
Gibson then took several moments to walk around the field – shaking hands, giving hugs and high-fives and posing for photos that captured the moment, for the man with the heart of gold.
“I want to always remember this game,” Gibson said. “I want to remember how I feel, how the fans feel and the way my teammates helped me enjoy this moment.”
For more information on Gibson’s charity, visit the website kickforchrist.org.