The Missouri Comets didn't have much time to celebrate following their convincing 8-2 MASL Central Division championship victory over the Milwaukee Wave Thursday night at the Independence Events Center.
Moments after the biggest win of the season, coach Vlatko Andonovski's team boarded a bus for St. Louis.
“We have to bus to St. Louis, catch a flight from St. Louis to Baltimore and play the Blast tomorrow night,” Andonovski said, with a slight touch of disgust in his voice. “We go into tonight's game after not playing for 18 days, now we have three games in four days. I do not agree with the scheduling, but the boys are so excited, so electrified after this win, I think they would be happy to go out and play Baltimore right now.”
As if to punctuate his coach's comment, defender Brian Harris stormed through the walkway in front of the team locker room and shouted, “Let's get on a bus! Coach, We'll take a bus all the way to Baltimore. We're play three games in three days – we're ready to go!”
Andonovski just smiled and nodded with approval.
The 13-8 Wave advanced to Thursday night's division title game after taking two of three games from Chicago. There was a bit of concern in the Comets camp that their 18-day layoff might pose a problem.
Team captain Vahid Assadpour, who rarely shows emotion on the field, answered that layoff question just 3 minutes, 8 seconds into the first period when he took a crossing pass from Bryan Perez and drilled it past Wave goalkeeper Nick Vorberg.
The usually stoic Assadpour then ran into Perez's arms and celebrated with his teammates.
“This was the biggest game of the season, and we had to take control early,” said Assadpour, who added two more goals for a hat trick and was named the Borden Man of the Match. “It was electric inside this arena. Our fans are our sixth man, and we're going to miss them in Baltimore, but we don't care where we play. This team is on a mission – I think we proved that tonight.”
Milwaukee's Tony Walls scored moments after Assadpour's goal, but the 21-0 Comets answered with an unassisted goal by Kiel Williams. Perez then deflected in an Alain Matingou shot to give the Comets a 3-1 lead that was never challenged.
Josh Gardner proved it was the Comets' night when he ricocheted a ball off Milwaukee's Victor Quiorz to make it a 4-1 game, and goalie Danny Waltman then made a kick save, with the ball deflecting to MASL scoring champion Leo Gibson.
Gibson found Assadpour in the open and the captain scored his second goal of the night. Following the electrifying goal, he climbed the glass and celebrated with some of the 3,441 fans in attendance.
“Vahid played one of his best games of the season,” Gibson said, “and that shows how special his performance was tonight because he plays a great game every time he steps on the field. This was a total team effort, total team win.”
The goal that had everyone talking came off the foot of Harris, who took a pass from Assadpour and shot a rocket from beyond the yellow line. It turned and twisted past Vorberg to make the score 6-1.
“Bend it like Harris!” shouted Waltman, making a reference to the “Bend it like Beckham” phrase so often associated with the legendary English player David Beckham. “I saw it, and I still don't know how he did it.”
Neither does Harris.
“I just closed my eyes and kicked it,” joked Harris. “I saw a little opening and let it fly and it went in the net. I'll take it, and I'll take this win.”
Gibson later scored the team's seventh goal and Assadpour closed out his big night with his hat trick goal in the closing seconds.
“This was a team win,” Andonovski said as his players filed past him into the locker room. “Vahid led by his performance, Danny led in his charismatic way and Leo was Leo. It was a big win going into the game against Baltimore.”
Former Comet Stefan St. Louis scored a sixth-attacker goal in the fourth quarter to wrap up the scoring for the Wave.
Tonight's game begins at 6:35 p.m. The two teams then return to the Events Center for a 3:05 p.m. game Sunday.