Moments after Leo Gibson and his Kansas City Comets teammates entered the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena locker room following a 6-4 win over the St. Louis Ambush in the home opener, managing partner Brian Budzinski walked down the hallway clutching a special memento.
It was the game ball from Gibson’s first win as the team’s new head coach. And his appearance sparked a massive cheer as he entered the locker room.
“Leo deserves all the accolades. He works so hard and cares so much about our Comets,” Budzinski said of Gibson, who also still plays. “I’m just proud to see him get that first win out of the way, and what better way than at home in front of a great crowd.”
Gibson said he was devastated when his team lost 6-5 in overtime to the Cal Express in the season opener in Turlock, Calif., but he was elated to share win No. 1 with the hometown fans.
“This is perfect, just perfect,” said Gibson, the team’s all-time leading scorer who had a goal and two assists against the Ambush. “If you can’t win the first game of the season, the best thing is to win the home opener. And our guys worked so hard tonight – for me, our fans and our team. This is a night I will never forget.”
When asked about the game ball, the smile reappeared.
“Bud brought it into our locker room and everyone was so happy. They started cheering and everyone signed it,” Gibson said. “For a long time, I never saved any of my memorabilia, but lately, when I receive an honor I’m keeping it, and I will have this ball forever.”
It was also a milestone night for Kansas City native and former Sporting KC signee Matt Lewis, a defender who scored his first goal as a member of the Comets.
He opened the scoring in the third minute of his Comets debut, cleaning up after a Gibson shot and a Ray Saari follow-up-attempt.
“How about the defenders tonight?” asked Lewis, whose smile mirrored that of his head coach. “It was super cool to score the first goal, and defenders scored the first three goals tonight.
“I guess it’s not bad to score your first goal on your third touch as a member of a new team. What a night!”
The Ambush picked up the first blue card of the game when Stefan St. Louis was penalized for an illegal tackle deep in his own end. Comets captain John Sosa buried the set piece opportunity into the upper corner, far post, to increase the lead to 2-0.
“A great start tonight – and it’s all for Leo and our fans,” said Sosa, who made a spectacular defensive play 46 seconds into the game when he made a diving stop in goal when Steven Hermansky was out of position following his own diving stop.
Ray Lee scored his first goal of the season just 11 seconds into the second quarter, his first at home in just three games with the Comets. Kiel Williams fed him perfectly over the middle for the one-touch score.
Robert Kelly picked up Kansas City’s first blue card midway into the second half for tripping. The Ambush capitalized during the power play, with Duduca Carvalho bodying the ball into the net.
The Comets got it right back when Williams fired in a shot off a Gibson rebound to extend Kansas City’s lead to 4-1.
Saari added one more for good measure, scoring from a nearly impossible angle. Gibson was credited with the assist, putting the Comets up 5-1 going into halftime.
The Ambush’s Tony Walls scored the only goal of the third period, and St. Louis’ Douglas Dos Santos scored the first goal of the final period off a Diego Bobadilla pass off the boards to make it 5-3.
Gibson halted St. Louis’ momentum, scoring off a Mirko Sandivari assist with about six minutes to play
The goal forced the Ambush to play with their keeper in the attack the rest of the way. It paid off when Paulo Nascimento beat Hermansky from long-range, cutting the Kansas City lead to 6-4 with under two minutes to play.
Hamersky, a member of the Newton, Kansas, Police Department who takes vacation days to play for the Comets, stood tall in the net the rest of the way to secure the big win.
“I can’t even begin to tell you what Leo means to me and the guys on this team,” Hermansky said. “He has taught me about life, about soccer. He is such a good man and coach, and I was in the net for his first win. This will be a memorable night for everyone. I am truly blessed to know Leo and to play for him on this Comets team.”