Leo Gibson, whose red-hot scoring streak has been one of the biggest components of the Kansas City Comets’ march towards a playoff spot, emerged from the halftime locker room Saturday night at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena with a generic team jersey – no name, no number.
No problem, laughed Gibson, who along with goalie Mark Saxby starred in a thrilling 11-7 victory over the St. Louis Ambush in a must-win game that kept Kansas City’s Major Arena Soccer League playoff hopes alive.
The 11-10 Comets hold a two-game advantage over 10-13 St. Louis and 2 1/2-game lead over 8-12 Orlando for the final playoff spot in the South Central Division with three road games left in the regular season.
There was a reason Gibson changed jerseys at halftime, and it had nothing to do with anonymity.
“I have been sick – many of the guys have been sick – and my jersey was so soaked with sweat I didn’t want to wear it in the second half,” said Gibson, who sparked a huge second-half offensive outburst with a hat trick and an assist against the Ambush. “All they had was an extra jersey, so I wore it.”
That prompted coach Kim Roentved to add, “I don’t think Leo needs his (No. 18) jersey for our opponents to know who he is. Everyone knows who Leo is – and thank goodness he’s on our side.”
It was fitting that Gibson and Saxby emerged from the Comets’ locker room together as they headed to the post-game autograph session on the SEC Arena’s blue Sport Shake Field.
“I have been out of bed like once in the past two weeks and have lost 15 pounds,” said Saxby, who looked gaunt but happy following his sterling play in the net. “We needed this one, and I’ve practiced once this week because of how badly I have felt – but there was no way they were keeping me off the field tonight.
“This game had a playoff feel, and we were feeding off our fans. Playing at home, in our final home game of the season, was so special and we wanted to give our fans a special performance.”
St. Louis scored the first two goals and took a 2-1 lead into the second quarter. The Ambush continued to pepper the net, taking a 5-3 advantage into the intermission.
“I thought we played a great first half,” Roentved said at halftime. “We made a few mistakes and missed some scoring opportunities, but I told the boys that we were fine and that we would come out strong after the half.”
Roented swore he made that comment without benefit of a crystal ball, as the Comets scored the first four goals of the third quarter to take a 7-5 lead they never relinquished.
Anthony Grant beat goalie Paulo Nascimento just a minute into the second half, trimming the Comets deficit to 5-4.
A blue card on St. Louis gave the Comets a chance to knot it 5-5 on a James Togbah goal at the 5:12 mark of the third quarter. It was his league-leading eighth power play goal of the season.
Ignacio Flores scored just 20 seconds later to give the Comets their first lead at 6-5.
Gibson then scored three of the Comets’ next four goals to seal one of the biggest wins of the season. It was the final matchup against the Ambush, who won four of the previous five meetings.
“They are a quality team, and this was a quality win,” said Gibson, who was in the middle of some late-game pushing and shoving that led to a brawl in the closing seconds of regulation.
Punches were thrown, there was a lot of pushing, shoving and finger pointing but a group of police officers and SEC Arena staff quickly quelled the eruptive situation.
“This game meant a lot to both teams,” Roentved said, “and I was ready to go out and support my boys.”
He struck a boxing pose, and grinned.
“But, luckily for me, they took care of it themselves and I didn’t have to get in the middle of anything. I am a better coach than a fighter.”
Mirko Sandivari, Kiel Williams and Kevin Ellis scored in the first half for the Comets. Ramone Palmer and Ellis both scored in the fourth quarter. Ellis’ last goal came on an assist from Saxby.