Gibson, Ellis hat tricks power Comets past St. Louis in home opener

Bill Althaus
The Examiner
Kansas City Comets player/coach Leo Gibson is cheered by the fans after scoring a second-half goal in Saturday's home opener against the St. Louis Ambush at Cable Dahmer Arena. Gibson scored a hat trick to help his team to an 11-6 victory and a 2-0 start to the regular season.

It had the intensity of a playoff game, the feel of a battle between two in-state rivals and the dramatic flair that brings the crowd to its feet time after time. 

These were the key elements of the Kansas City Comets' 11-6 victory over the St. Louis Ambush in their home opener Saturday night at Cable Dahmer Arena, as player/coach Leo Gibson and Kevin Ellis each produced a hat trick and goalkeeper Nicolau Neto made the type of game-saving plays you had to see to believe in front of a crowd of 2,577. 

The win gave the Comets a 2-0 record to start the season with both wins coming against the Ambush, who they edged 6-4 Friday night in the regular season opener at The Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo. 

The intensity from both teams Saturday resulted in a wild momentum swing as the Comets grabbed a 6-1 lead in the first quarter, only to see the Ambush score three power play goals after a Robert Kristo goal that ricocheted into the net after hitting Comets captain John Sosa. St. Louis cut the deficit to 6-5 going into halftime.

Kansas City Comets midfielder Ignacio "Nacho" Flores, front, points at teammate Lesia Thetsane after he assisted on Flores' goal in the first quarter of Saturday's home opener against the St. Louis Ambush at Cable Dahmer Arena. The Comets went on to an 11-6 win to improve to 2-0.

"We played an amazing first quarter, then we took our foot off the pedal in the second half and St. Louis took advantage of that," said Gibson, who added an assist to go along with his three goals. "We addressed that at the half, and played much better in the second half." 

Ellis and several members of the Ambush had a heated exchange late in the third quarter and that seemed to inspire his teammates. Gibson scored with just 24 seconds left in the period and Ellis followed with a laser beam goal to the top right corner with just seven-tenths of a second left to give Kansas City an 8-5 lead and all the momentum the hometown team had lost in the second period. 

"We had the good first period, then, I think we tried to do too much in the second period and nothing seemed to work," Ellis said. "We took a big step back and Leo addressed that at halftime. 

Kansas City Comets forward Kevin Ellis (4) scores on a penalty kick in the first quarter of Saturday's home opener against the St. Louis Ambush at Cable Dahmer Arena. Ellis scored a hat trick to help the Comets to an 11-6 win.

"We did not get off to a successful start last season and it was important for us to win tonight to go 2-0, and we had to do it against our rival from Missouri. It took a while, but those late goals (by Gibson and Ellis) were great! It's always fun to score a goal in the final seconds and we were able to score two." 

When asked about the intensity in the second half, Ellis smiled and said, "We know those guys. They know us. We both want to win. It got pretty intense, but we could all shake hands and smile after the game." 

Ellis scored his third goal just 2:40 into the fourth quarter on a power play shootout and James Togbah followed with an even-strength goal at the 5:17 mark to extend the Comets’ lead to 10-5.  

Kansas City Comets midfielder Christian Anderaos (13) leaps into the arms of teammate Lesia Thetsane (9) to celebrate a goal by Ignacio "Nacho" Flores (23) in Saturday's home opener against the St. Louis Ambush. Thetsane assisted on Flores' goal as the Comets went on to an 11-6 victory.

The Ambush pulled the goalkeeeper to go with a sixth attacker and Gibson scored his third goal on an assist from newcomer Absa Solorio to make it 11-5 at the 8:20 mark. 

St. Louis' Ado Jahic scored the final goal with 44 seconds left to account for the final 11-6 score. 

"I was very upset with myself when they scored that final goal," said Neto, the starting goalkeeper in the MASL All-Star Game last season. "We have all set a goal of keeping our opponent to a goal per period, and that did not happen tonight. But a win is all that matters.

"It was an intense game and we fed off our fans' energy. We played last night and we played tonight and I wish we could go out and play tomorrow. I am that excited about our season and this team. 

"We all believe this is going to be a special season."

Kansas City Comets defender James Togbah, right, catches St. Louis Ambush goalkeeper Josue Mazon out of the net and scores a goal in Saturday's home opener at Cable Dahmer Arena. Togbah had two goals to help the Comets to an 11-6 win.

The Comets prevailed despite the Ambush having a 40-37 advantage in shots on goal. 

Sosa had two first-period goals for the Comets, including a penalty kick. 

"Coach Leo has challenged the defense this season and I believe we have met his challenge in our first two wins," said Sosa, who also had two assists. "We are developing a great rivalry with St. Louis, as you could see tonight and I am proud of the way our entire team has played to start the season." 

Togbah also finished with two goals, Ignacio Flores also scored a goal and Ray Lee had two assists. 

Friday’s win 

Gibson scored a power play goal in the fourth quarter to break a 4-4 tie and help lift the Comets past host St. Louis Friday. 

Gibson’s second goal of the game came at the 5:28 mark of the final period. Lee added his second goal against the Ambush’s sixth attacker at the 13:33 mark to seal it. 

Sosa and Lee scored in the second quarter to tie it 2-2 at halftime. Gibson gave the Comets a 3-2 lead at 3:37 of the third. 

Mohamed Ndiaye converted a penalty kick to tie it 3-3 for the Ambush, but Kyle McLagan put the Comets back up 4-3 heading into the final quarter. 

Vadim Cojocov tied it 4-4 at 4:18 of the fourth before Gibson put the Comets ahead for good just 1:10 later. 

McLagan returns 

Kyle McLagan, the son of former Blue Springs High School boys and girls soccer coach and former Comet Doug McLagan, has re-signed with the Comets. 

"It's great to be back in Kansas City and it's great to be with the Comets,” said McLagan, who saw action in both games against the Ambush and scored a goal Friday. 

New sponsor 

CommunityAmerica Credit Union will be the team’s title and jersey sponsor for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons, serving as the exclusive banking and mortgage partner for the team.