MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Kansas City Comets player/coach Leo Gibson does not believe in moral victories.
However, if he did, his injury-riddled team would have picked one up Monday, in an early-morning 7-6 Martin Luther King Day loss to the reigning Major Arena Soccer League champion Milwaukee Wave.
Angel Curiel scored the game-winner with just 20 seconds left in overtime.
The Comets were short handed, with six players out due to injury, after missing just one in Friday’s 9-8 comeback win over Milwaukee in Independence.
“I am so proud of the guys,” Gibson said by phone, “because we didn’t make any excuses and we fought so hard. This is a tough loss, but it came against a very good team and we can leave here with our heads held high.’
The loss drops the fifth-place Comets to 5-6. The 7-3 Wave are in fourth place in the MASL's Eastern Conference. Three of the Comets’ losses this season have been in overtime.
It took nearly 12 minutes for Milwaukee to break the opening stalemate, as Comets rookie Nicolau Neto and Milwaukee veteran Rafael Dias were outstanding in net.
Milwaukee rookie Mikey Herrera finally penetrated from the top of the arc, putting the Wave up 1-0.
Nearing the end of the first quarter, John Sosa was shown a blue card for an aggressive tackle. Some more impressive play from Neto saw Kansas City escape the power play unscathed. Moments after it ended, Ray Lee teed up from just inside the yellow line, blasting a left-footed shot to tie the game at 1-all.
The Comets’ next goal was a response to a blue card as well as Robert Palmer took a pass from Matt Lewis to give Kansas City a 2-1 advantage.
Luan Oliveira then posted up Lee in the arc, spun and beat Neto near-post for the equalizer. In quick succession, the Wave regained the lead when Alex Bradley scored as he nudged the ball into the net with his heel.
The Comets finished the half on attack, with Dias saving a Lee shot at the buzzer to preserve the Wave’s 3-2 lead.
The Comets tied it at the onset of the second half. They were awarded a free kick at the top of Milwaukee’s arc, and John Sosa drilled home a goal from the set piece, tying the game at 3-3.
Halfway through the third quarter, Gibson scored off a pass from Lewis to give the Comets a 4-3 lead.
Milwaukee’s top scorer, Ian Bennett, responded a few minutes later to tie it again. Bradley fed him a pass off the boards and across the box, and Neto was only able to graze the shot with his glove tips. Going into the fourth quarter, the Comets and Wave were tied 4-4.
Lee scored his second goal of the game to give Kansas City a 5-4 lead with 12 minutes to play.
Milwaukee flipped the script with back-to-back goals near the 10-minute mark. First, Neto found himself on the floor with the ball in his hands. Then Max Ferdinand challenged him, Neto lost the ball, and Ferdinand fought it into the back of the net.
Bradley then got another goal to establish another Milwaukee lead. He camped out on the back post, and Isaac Pereyra spun around Sosa on the boards and threaded the assist. The score put Milwaukee up 6-5 with under 10 minutes to play.
Ray Saari brought the Comets right back with a display of persistence. He passed around Derek Huffman on the boards, fired a shot off that careened off the keeper and poked the ball home for a 6-6 tie.
With just 20 seconds left in overtime, Curiel got the ball on the right flank, drew a Stefan Stokic slide and hesitated to freeze Gibson, giving him the space to bury a shot in the top-shelf, near-post.
“Man, that was a tough game,” Bennett said by phone. “Give credit to Leo and the Comets. They came in here and played hard. If they were full strength, who knows what might have happened.
“I know we’re feeling fortunate to pick up this win today. Hats off to the Comets, they have played us tough the past two games.”