Kansas City Comets player/coach Leo Gibson considers ending storied MASL career

Bill Althaus
The Examiner
Kansas City Comets player/coach Leo Gibson (14) thanks young fans after their MASL semifinal playoff series loss last Saturday at Cable Dahmer Arena. The 38-year-old Gibson, the franchise's career leading scorer, said he will take time to consider whether or not he will return to the team next season.

Leo Gibson is the heart and soul of the Kansas City Comets, and has been since the team arrived in 2010.

The veteran forward is the team's all-time leading scorer (376 points on a team-best 187 goals and 189 assists) and for the past two seasons he has served as the Comets' player/coach.

And now, he is taking some time to make a decision that not only will impact the Comets, but the entire Major Arena Soccer League.

Gibson is 38, and he said the wear and tear both physically and mentally the past two campaigns have taken a toll on his body and soul. So the 2014-15 MASL MVP and nine-time all-league selection and his wife Lischen will enjoy the next two months away from the sport he has dominated and plan their future.

"I love soccer and I love the Comets," Gibson said, "but now is the time to look toward the future. I have two young daughters – 2 1/2-year-old Eleanor and 6-month-old Emerson – and they need to spend more time with their daddy.

More:Kansas City Comets fall one win short of MASL finals in dramatic playoff finale

"I wish I could tell you my future plans, but I honestly don't know. The last two seasons have been exhausting – especially last year (when the season was canceled early because of the COVID-19 pandemic). I have to start thinking about my family, and Lischen and I will be talking about the future."

While the future is uncertain, Gibson is proud to talk about his 2020-21 squad that finished the pandemic-shortened regular season 7-5 – after starting 1-4 and blowing early leads late in four consecutive contests – and advanced to the Ron Newman Cup playoff semifinals.

Kansas City Comets forward Kevin Ellis (4) blasts a shot on goal during an MASL Central Cup match against the St. Louis Ambush. Player/coach Leo Gibson said Ellis told him he was retiring after scoring 29 goals in three seasons with the Comets.

"I am so proud of what we accomplished this season," Gibson said of his team this week after falling 2-1 to the Ontario Fury in the decisive third mini-game last Saturday, just short of advancing to the finals. "We did not start off like we had hoped, and playing for a championship this weekend would have been very satisfying, but we have so much young talent that I believe we can be successful for a long time."

While much of the young talent will return, veteran forward Kevin Ellis has informed Gibson that he is going to retire. And the Comets coach does not believe forward Dom Francis – who had seven goals and three assists in five playoff games and four goals and two assists in five regular season games – will return after being on loan from the Harrisburg Heat, which had opted out of this season because of the pandemic.

"We were so lucky to have Kevin for the past few seasons," Gibson said of the former Sporting Kansas City starter who had five goals and four assists this season and 29 goals in three seasons with the Comets. "His family is growing and he told me he would not be back next season. I know he will miss the sport and this team and we will miss him.

"Dom was on loan from Harrisburg and we don't expect him to be back, although it would be wonderful if we could work something out so he could return. Our fans were able to see the type of impact he can make on a team over the weekend."

More:Comets sweep to Central Cup title

Gibson said three members of the Comets – forward Rian Marques, midfielder Lucas Sousa and defender Kyle McLagan – were all named to the MASL All-Tournament team for the preseason Central Cup.

"To have three of the five players named to the all-tournament team tells you what type of young talent we had this season," Gibson said. "Rian is going to grow into a real scoring threat, Lucas is a great all-around player and we hope Kyle will return to the team after leaving (midseason) to play (outdoors) overseas (in Iceland). 

"And we have so many great players who have been a part of our organization for a while, so the future looks very bright."

Kansas City Comets goalkeeper Nicolau Neto fist-bumps fans through the glass to celebrate a playoff victory over the St. Louis Ambush. The rising star is expected to return to the Comets next season.

One of the brightest spots is in the net, where Nicolau Neto has become one of the most talked about young goalkeepers in the league. He was 5-5, but won his last five regular-season starts and had a 5.74 goals against average.

"I am already thinking about next season," said Neto, who brings an exuberance to the net, urging the fans to get excited about the game and thanking them after each contest, win or lose. "I love the fans here. I love this community and this organization. This is the only place I want to play and I hope to play here for a long, long time."

More:Comets earn No. 3 seed in playoffs with win in regular season finale

Gibson hopes Neto sticks around for a while – even if he doesn’t.

"We have seen Nicolau grow as a player and a person and I know what our fans and our team mean to him," Gibson said. "He has developed a great personality and wants everyone to know what they mean to him both on and off the field.

"And he is going to just keep getting better and better. And I believe I can say that for our team. The future looks very bright."