Leo Gibson has always been one of the hardest working players on the Kansas City Comets.
The first to arrive and the last to leave the SoccerDome in North Kansas City, the veteran captain was the perfect role model for his teammates.
The same thing was true Wednesday as he took part in his first kick-around – with members of the Comets and amateurs who are hoping for a spot on the Major Arena Soccer League team’s roster – as the team’s new head coach.
“Today was different, a lot different,” Gibson, who will also play, said after working with the team on and off the field. “Today was just a kick-around with a lot of players. It all starts for real Monday when we begin practicing with the guys who will be on the team this season.”
Gibson had been an assistant for head coach Kim Roentved the past two years. When Roentved left the team, a search for a new head coach began.
“When you think of who you want to represent your organization to the community in which you live, Leo Gibson personifies every quality imaginable,” Comets managing partner Brian Budzinski said Tuesday in announcing that Gibson had been hired.
And Gibson’s teammates agree.
“When you look back at the overall process, Leo was the only real choice,” goalkeeper Mark Saxby said. “We have so much respect for Leo, I think this is going to lead to great things this season. I can’t wait for Monday!”
Added veteran Comets forward John Sosa: “We have always respected Leo as a person and a player, and we will show him the same respect as a coach. He brings a love of the game and so much experience and expertise to his new job as the head coach – no one knows the game better than Leo.”
When asked what it will be like to coach his former teammates, Gibson grinned.
“I’ve thought about that quite a bit,” Gibson admitted. “There are some guys on this team I have played with for many, many years. I will always respect them and I hope – and believe – they will respect me.”
Gibson, 36, has signed a three-year contract and said he will likely cut down on his playing time this season.
“That is something I have talked about with my wife Lischen,” Gibson explained. “I’m excited about coaching and about playing and I know my playing career is winding down so we will see what this season and future seasons bring.”
VETERANS RE-SIGNED: Two veterans – Stefan Stokic and Robert Kelly – will return to the Comets this season.
Stokic, the 34-year-old Serbian, has signed a one-year deal, while Kelly, a 23-year-old Kansas City area native, has signed on for two more years.
Stokic has been with the franchise since its rebirth in 2010, and he sits on the leaderboard for multiple all-time categories, including atop the franchise’s list for blocks.
“I’ve been here 10 years, and I want to leave the field knowing the Comets, the team and the franchise are moving the way they used to be. I’m looking forward to a new season and getting back to winning ways,” Stokic said.
Since graduating from Rockhurst High School, Kelly’s soccer career has taken him all over, first to Tulsa, then San Francisco State and Cloud County Community College, and eventually the Comets. He appeared in just two games his rookie season, but now that he’s settled back in Kansas City, assisting the Avila University women, he hopes to take on a bigger role.
“I’m really excited to get back into it and learn from the older guys, and I’m looking to really get some more playing time, especially at home in front of some family members and friends,” Kelly said.