When the best of the best match up in must-win games, many times it brings out the best of each individual player.
That was the case Friday night at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, where Kansas City Comets player/coach Leo Gibson had two goals and an assists but Milwaukee’s Ian Bennett scored his third hat trick this season at SEC Arena to lead the Wave to a heartbreaking 7-6 overtime victory.
The Comets scored four fourth-quarter goals to tie it 6-6, only to see Milwaukee’s Chad Vandergriffe get the ball at the top of the arch and freeze Kansas City goalkeeper Nicolau Neto to score the game-winner at 2:15.
The loss leaves the Comets with an 8-8 record with eight games left in the regular season. They trail fourth-place Baltimore by three games for the final Eastern Division playoff berth.
“Tonight was a playoff game – every game the rest of the season is a playoff game. We need to win them all,” Gibson said after the loss to the defending Major Arena Soccer League champions. “There are many positive things we can take from this game, but we don’t need positive things – we need wins.
“And if we would have been more consistent tonight we would have had a better chance of winning. We just scored one goal in the first half and then scored four in the fourth quarter. If we had played the entire game the way we played the fourth quarter we might have been talking about a win.”
Five minutes into the game, Ignacio Flores picked up a blue card for an aggressive challenge. It took 90 seconds, but Milwaukee (11-4) capitalized on the blue card when Max Ferdinand split the legs of Neto.
Max Huffman doubled down for the Wave seconds later. He one-timed a left-footed shot near post, putting Milwaukee up 2-0 early.
The Comets waited 12 minutes to get on the board. Robert Palmer played a long ball to Gibson, who flicked a one-touch assist straight to Adam James. James tucked it just inside the far post, cutting the deficit in half.
Bennett created offense from defense seconds before the end of the quarter, turning the Comets over in their own end and easily finding the nearly open net.
“I feel like I rise to the occasion when we play the great teams like the Comets,” said Bennett, who has scored 15 goals against Kansas City in five games this season. “You can score against the last place teams, but those goals don’t mean as much as the goals you score against the Comets. I have so much respect for Leo and his team. Tonight was just a great game, the type of game you expect when Milkwaukee and Kansas City play.”
After a scoreless second period, Bennett added to his tally to open the second half. It took nearly the rest of the quarter, but Gibson pulled his team back into the game with his second goal to make it 4-2 going into the fourth quarter.
Gibson was sent to the penalty box early in the fourth quarter, and Bennett picked up his third goal to extend the lead to three.
As soon as the coach was back on the field, he was back on the score sheet, sniping a goal from a free kick at the top of the arc to pull Kansas City within 5-3.
Milwaukee picked up a blue card midway through the quarter and just as the Wave were killing the penalty, they picked up another for taking out John Sosa in the box. Gibson missed the ensuing penalty, but the Comets remained a man up.
This time they took advantage. Sosa lofted an looping pass meant for Gibson, and he knocked it over to Kevin Ellis, who beat the Wave goalkeeper to make it a one-score game 7:26 left.
When Vandergriffe squeezed off a frantic assist to Andre Hayne in the middle of the box, giving the Wave a 6-4 lead, the Comets pulled Neto from the net. It paid immediate dividends as Ellis scored his second goal at the 11:59 mark.
Just 36 seconds later, Sosa scored from long range to knot the score at 6-6, setting up the overtime period.
“That was a game we could have won in regulation,” Ellis said. “It’s disappointing to play so well in the fourth quarter, but to struggle through the first three periods.
“Like Leo said, every game from here on out is a playoff game. We need to get on a winning streak to get in the playoffs.”
Vandergriffe came up with the game-winner 2:15 into sudden death, freezing Neto to seal the win.