Comets drop first leg of semifinals in overtime

By Bill Althaus
bill.althaus@examiner.net

When the COVID-tinged MASL season began, the buzz around the league was that Kansas City's Nicolau Neto was one of the best young goalies in the league.

He played a huge role in the Comets' late-season run to the playoffs as Kansas City won nine of its last 10 games, setting up a semifinal appearance Thursday night at Cable Dahmer Arena.

Neto faced an unimaginable 52 shots on goal in a heart-breaking 8-7 double-overtime loss to Ontario, as Franck Tayou took a pass in front of the net from Juan Carlos Gonzalez at 7:47 of the second overtime period and tapped to the far corner of the net to end the marathon semifinal contest.

The two teams meet again at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Cable Dahmer Arena. If the Comets win, a mini game will immediately follow the second semifinal contest.

"Early on, Neto was one of the best young goalies in the league, and now, everyone talks about him being one of the best goalies in the league, and he's going to do nothing but get better," player-coach Leo Gibson said after the loss. "As you could tell by the guys coming out of the locker room, this was a tough loss – but like I told them, 'We have another game Saturday!' and I want them to channel how they feel right now in Saturday's game.

"During the playoffs, Neto has taken his game to the next level. He will be one of the best, if not the best, goalies in the MASL very soon. We wanted to win this one for him, because he did everything he could to keep us in the game. He made some amazing saves."

Neto took the loss to heart but said that inner fire will fuel him for the second semifinal.

"I'm not going to let this loss affect the way I prepare for Saturday," Neto said. "It will just force me to work harder, to study film, to do everything I can to get the edge Saturday, because we are in a must-win situation. We have to win the first game, and force that third (mini) game, and I believe we can do it.

"We need to tighten up our defense and cut down on mistakes – me included. I am disappointed, but this loss just serves as motivation for Saturday night."

Former Comets defender Robert Palmer put the Fury up 7-6 when he scored at 6:32 of the fourth quarter.

"This is such an emotional game for me, because it's like coming home," said Palmer, who played eight seasons with the Comets and was part of the 2014 MISL championship team. "It's not quite as emotional because we played here in the regular season, but I grew up with this organization and have so many great memories.

"And tonight was tough. When we played here in the regular season, we got an early lead and Leo's guys came back to beat us – kind of a reversal of tonight. But I have to give credit to Neto – he was amazing in goal. Stopping all those shots and keeping them in the game for two overtime periods."

Tayou, one of the premier players in the MASL, has struggled lately with a knee injury, but managed to score the game winner in the second overtime.

"I have to give credit to my teammates, who kept telling me throughout the game that something good would happen, and it did," Tayou said. "Moments like that are when I come alive and I got the great pass and was able to put it in the net."

The Comets led 3-1 going into the second period as Dom Francis scored just 45 seconds into the game.

Kansas City took a 6-5 lead into the fourth quarter before Gonzalez scored at 4:34 to knot the score at 6-all. Palmer then gave Ontario the 7-6 lead before Gibson put himself into the game as a sixth attacker with just 2:37 left in regulation.

The Comets stormed the Fury net, and a shot by Gibson rebounded to Lucas Sousa, who scored the game-tying goal seconds later.

"We worked so hard tonight, that it is disappointing to lose," Gibson said, "but we will come back strong and get the job done Saturday."