As the final seconds ticked off the clock in an overtime period at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, Kansas City player/coach Leo Gibson controlled the ball near the Harrisburg Heat net.
“I knew there were just a few seconds left, and I knew that if I shot it, that time would run out, so I did,” Gibson said.
What happened over the next 3.4 seconds defied belief.
Gibson’s shot hit off the post of the net, and caromed to a Harrisburg player. He tried to clear the ball, but it caromed off the wall to Lucas Rodriguez, who already had two goals, including the game-tying tally.
Rodriguez, with just over a second left in the overtime period, blasted a shot that ricocheted off the Heat’s Dylan Hundelt and Daniel Villela and dribbled into the net past a diving Will Banahene as time expired, giving Kansas City a 6-5 Major Arena Soccer League Eastern Conference win and a winning record for the first time this season.
“I did not see Lucas’ winning shot, but it was a long night, and I was so happy – for everyone – that he made it,” said a grinning Gibson, who had taken an elbow to the cheek and was holding an ice bag to his face. “This is a huge win – a team win – and I am so happy we were able to get the job done at home.”
The game reached overtime because of Lucas. With 15 seconds left in regulation, the Comets were awarded a free kick at the top of the arc. John Sosa tapped it to Gibson, who picked up his third assist by feeding Rodriguez for the tying goal.
“Tonight is about our team – not about who scores the tying or winning goals,” said Rodriguez, who has missed two full games and parts of two others with a leg injury. “Even though I stopped the ball (in overtime) with my right foot, I knew I was going to take the shot because I was so tired. We were all tired – and that makes a win like this even better.”
The win gives Kansas City a 7-6 record, while Harrisburg falls to 9-5. The Comets must pass the Heat in the standings to reach the playoffs for the ninth time in the past 10 seasons.
“This was like a playoff game, because it has playoff implications,” Rodriguez said. “The intensity was there, it was a physical game and, like I said before, I am so thankful we were able to win.”
The score was just 2-2 going into halftime as Robert Kelly and Ignacio Flores scored goals for the Comets.
The Comets struck first in the third period off a set piece. Sosa passed the ball to Rodriguez, who faked the shot and passed to Kevin Ellis, who blasted a shot off the boards. Gibson gathered the rebound and fired off his own shot, which turned into an assist when Ellis swept the bounce back into the net, giving Kansas City its third lead of the game.
The Heat answered again in quick fashion. Daniel Villela scored to tie it 3-3. Harrisburg then took a 4-3 lead when a shot by Dominic Francis hit Kansas City’s Mirko Sandivari and rolled into the net.
The Comets were awarded a free kick at the top of the arc about a minute later. Sosa tapped it to Gibson, who picked up his third assist by feeding Rodriguez for the tying goal with just 14 seconds left in the third quarter.
Harrisburg regained the lead five minutes into the fourth period. The Comets were slow getting back in transition, leaving Nelson Santana one-on-one with goalkeeper Nicolau Neto. Despite getting his foot on the ball, Neto was unable to make the save. With 10 minutes to play, Harrisburg led 5-4.
The field became a little bigger in the waning minutes when both teams lost players to the penalty box. First Gibson was sent off for a dangerous tackle, then Harrisburg’s Tom Mellor was sent off for pulling on Robert Palmer from behind.
Harrisburg only enjoyed a few seconds with the man advantage, giving the Comets a shortened power play when Gibson’s timeout expired, and Rodriguez buried the tying goal at the 10:26 mark, forcing overtime.
In sudden death, Ty Hall and Flores got into a tussle. Hall headbutted Flores and choked Ellis for trying to broker peace, resulting in a red card for Hall and a blue card for Ellis. That left both teams with four for the next two minutes.
Harrisburg lost another player when Jerjer Gibson picked up his sixth foul, resulting in the Heat’s second red card.
Rodriguez then claimed the win with the improbable buzzer-beating goal.
“It’s a big win, like the Chiefs big comeback win in the Super Bowl,” Rodriguez said. “Now, we need to keep playing well because we go to Milwaukee Saturday and that is always a tough place to play.”
The Wave (8-3) are the defending MASL champions.