For 19 games this season, the Missouri Comets played as one solid unit – a band of brothers – whose only goal was an undefeated regular season en route to a second consecutive championship season.
That changed briefly Sunday afternoon at the Independence Events Center, where Leo Gibson's teammates made sure the popular veteran became the new Major Arena Soccer League's scoring champion – for a season and an individual game.
“When we were up by so many points in the second half, the boys did everything they could to get Leo the ball so he could score a lot of points,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said after Gibson scored eight goals and added four assists in a regular-season ending 17-1 victory over Tacoma.
The victory gave the Comets a perfect 20-0 mark in regular-season action.
“As a coach, I want to see everyone involved in the offense and the defense,” Andonovski added, “but, if I was a player, I would have done the same thing. The way Leo started this game – with the first four goals – he earned everything he received today. We are all happy for him.”
Gibson entered the final regular-season game as the MASL 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.
Following his 10th point, 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.
Less than a minute later, Gibson's longtime teammate and best friend, team captain Vahid Assadpour, found him alone at the top of the circle.
Gibson fired the ball past Stars goalie Aaron Anderson, setting off a noisy celebration among the 4,843 fans who were following Gibson's every move.
That goal made the score 16-1 – and the only drama remaining was whether or not Gibson would score a 12th point, making sure he owned the single-game mark all by himself.
At 11:22 of the fourth quarter, Assadpour again found Gibson near the net and fed him the ball.
Gibson did the rest, scoring his eighth goal and putting an exclamation point to the greatest single performance in MASL history.
“The assist had to come from Vahid,” said Gibson, who played with and won a championship in Detroit with Assadpour and goalkeeper Danny Waltman before they became star players for the Comets. “We know what each other is thinking on the field. The record is not as important to me as the victory and our perfect season – but the way my teammates were getting me the ball, I knew it was important to them.
“So, it is a great honor for me to have a game like this in front of our fans in a victory that helps us finish the regular season with a perfect record.”
Following the game, Gibson took his time walking around the field, shaking hands, posing for selfies with fans and soaking in the moment.
“No one deserves a moment like more than Leo,” said Assadpour, who watched the postgame scene with a smile on his face. “We are a team, we are brothers. We have a great coach and a lot of talented players, but today, we wanted to make sure Leo scored his points and got his name in the record book.”
Gibson was the scoring champion last year in the final season for the MISL, and the Comets claimed the league's last championship.
“We won the MISL championship last season, and we were a very good team last year,” Assadpour said, “but this year's team is special. We knew before we even played a game this year that we were going to win. We were that confident.”
They might not have been quite that confident in the opening 11 minutes of Sunday's game as the Stars held the most prolific scoring team in the MASL to no goals.
Then, with 4:05 left in the first quarter, Gibson scored the first of four goals. He then assisted on four of the seven second-quarter goals as the Comets went into halftime with an 11-0 lead.
The Stars' Evan Denmark scored their lone goal at 3:03 of the third period to spoil Waltman's shutout, but Gibson came back with what has to be a serious contender for the MASL Goal of the Year as he took a perfect pass from John Sosa and scored on a Pele-like bicycle kick.
Josh Gardner, who had two goals in the decisive second quarter, followed with his third of the night, and Gibson followed with goals No. 46, 47 and 48.
“This was a great day, but it is only one of the goals we set this season – going undefeated,” Gibson said as he signed autographs and posed for photos. “Now, we have to work hard in practice and see who we play in the playoffs. The biggest goal is still out there – and winning a second championship is the ultimate goal.”
Waltman finished with a league-high 17 wins. He had 236 saves and a .744 save percentage. Assadpour, Brian Harris, Alain Matingou, John Sosa, Bryan Perez and Coady Andrews also scored for the Comets, and Assapour, Matingou, Perez and Sosa each finished with two assists.