The intensity at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena was so intense in the opening round of the 2019 Major Arena Soccer League Ron Newman Cup Playoffs that the azure blue turf suffered scorch marks.
The visiting Milwaukee Wave found a way to get past coach Kim Roentved’s Comets 5-2.
A haggard Roentved left the locker room following a lengthy team meeting, apologized for his tardiness and dissected the game.
“That was a game I wish I was in the stands watching – that was what playoff soccer is all about,” Roentved said, as the series moves to Milwaukee for a 2:05 p.m. Saturday second game (followed by a deciding mini-game if the Comets win).
“Have you ever felt like you were in a 15-round fight? That’s how I feel now – a 15-round heavyweight fight. It was that intense, it meant that much to each team. I just told the boys I am disappointed in the score but not in the way we played.”
The longstanding rivalry was evident as fans and players could feel the electricity. There were several skirmishes – but no fisticuffs – and a shoving match broke out between the two teams at halftime.
“That happens,” Roentved said. “I was talking to Giuliano (Olivier, the Wave coach) and he agreed it was a great playoff game, and we’re both excited to see what happens Saturday in Milwaukee.”
Comets goalkeeper Mark Saxby and Wave keeper Josh Lemos rose to the occasion time after time as Milwaukee led just 1-0 after the first 15 minutes of play as Ian Bennett slid the ball to the left as Saxby dove to the right on a shootout goal.
The Wave took a 2-0 lead at 5:17 of the second quarter when Andre Hayne found the back of the net.
The Comets tried to bounce back as an impressive give-and-go between Nacho Flores and Bryan Perez ricocheted off the post.
However, Ramone Palmer’s laser-like pass to Kiel Williams at 11:31 made it a 2-1 game at halftime.
Saxby kept the Comets within one, making a fan-pleasing, point-blank save shortly before the buzzer sounded.
Saxby recorded two diving saves to start the second half and Kevin Ellis and Leo Gibson both had headers that caromed off the glass above the goal.
It was the Wave that finally broke the game open as Chad Vandegriffe scored two goals and Hayne scored his second of the night.
Gibson managed to sneak a shot through a group of Wave defenders in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late.
“They have an outstanding defense, that is one of the things that make them one of the best teams in the league,” Gibson said. “When we play them again in Milwaukee, we need to create better spacing, pull them out past the yellow line, to give us more of an attack zone.”
Like Roentved, Oliviero is looking forward to Game 2.
“Kansas City is well coached and they played with a lot of heart tonight, especially Saxby, their goalkeeper,” Oliviero said. “They wanted to win this game as much as we did, but we found a way to win on the road, which is very difficult in the playoffs.
“I know that is what Kansas City hopes to do Saturday and we need to come out with the same intensity to make sure that does not happen.”