In the first five years of existence, the Missouri Comets have quickly developed a rivalry with the Milwaukee Wave. The teams had met 32 times going into their New Year's Eve match, with each team taking home 16 wins. Seemingly every game between these two comes down to the wire and can be considered one of the best games of the season.
Thanks to a controversial final seconds of regulation and overtime. Wednesday's match will become an instant classic in this great rivalry
The Comets came into this game on a club-record nine-game unbeaten streak. The streak faced a serious challenge last Saturday when the San Diego Sockers nearly pulled off an upset. The tight game, physical nature of that game and short recovery time forced the Comets to start this match without Max Touloute and Ramone Palmer. Only12 Missouri players suited up for the match.
"I can't say enough about how tough these players are," said head coach Vlatko Andonovsi. "We were all tired and hurting from last Saturday, and to be missing two key players...they all stepped up in a big way."
Missouri makes no secret about how they plan to beat teams. They will control possession as much as possible and force the other team into mistakes with high defensive pressure.
Milwaukee employed the same strategy to try and break the Comets on Wednesday. Shutting down the Comets attack would be difficult, but they were able to force a couple mistakes and score two first period goals. However, Leo Gibson and Vahid Assadpour sandwiched two of their own scores between the Milwaukee tallies. Then Bryan Perez started the second quarter with his first goal of the night, followed shortly after by Alain Matingou.
After taking a 4-2 lead into halftime, Perez scored his second of the night to start the third quarter and Brian Harris added another long-bomb to give the Comets a seemingly insurmountable 6-2 lead going into the final period.
Milwaukee was not ready to send their fans home disappointed yet though. Luan Sales Oliveira started the Wave really two minutes into the period, beating Danny Waltman to the left side. JC Banks scored two more goals with a tally from Ian Bennett in-between. Facing a four-goal deficit going into the period, the Wave now found themselves tied 6-6 with all the momentum.
Throughout the period, the Comets had their chances. Gibson, Matingou and Perez each set put themselves in position for open net goals on the Wave backpost. However, as each pass found them, all three missed their target. Further complicating matters, defender Coady Andrews hurt his ankle and was forced out of the game.
Bryan Perez was able to break the stalemate with less than four minutes remaining. His hat trick gave the Comets a 7-6 lead. As the team bunkered down to preserve their win in the final minutes, controversy began to brew.
With less than 6 seconds remaining, Matingou fouled a Wave player on Milwaukee's side of the neutral zone. A seemingly routine foul, it was actually the french defender's fourth, forcing him into the penalty box for two minutes. The Wave set up for indoor soccer's version of the Hail Mary as they lobbed the restart towards the Comets goal. after the ball bounced in the area a couple times, Oliveira was able to put the ball in the back of the night as the clock expired.
Video review confirmed the ball crossed the line with 0.2 seconds remaining. However, the review did not take into account the clock's delayed start when the kick was taken, a delay of around 1 whole second.
As the Wave celebrated their apparent tying goal, Comets players were shell-shocked. Andonovski, thinking the game should have been over, pulled his players from the field. Referees tried to stop him and a short conversation between the coach and the officials resulted in Andonovski's first ejection of his career.
"I told them they were robbing our players of their win." Andonovsi said after the game. "We had played so hard and earned a win in regulation...I felt they (the officials) were not looking at everything they should have to determine whether it was a goal."
Despite Andonovski's objections, the officials determined the goal was valid and the Comets returned to the field for overtime.
Both teams had their chances, but as the minutes clicked down in the extra period, neither team could score. Hoping to spark his team, Waltman made an attacking run into Wave territory. The same move in the previous game had resulted in a Comets score. However, this time he got his pocket-picked and Wave forward Bato Radoncic teed up a lobbing shot towards Missouri's open net.
With 6 seconds remaining and the clock ticking down, John Sosa raced down the field to try and make the save. The ball was headed out of reach for either his legs or his head, so the defender reached out with his right hand and swatted the ball out of the goal.
In indoor soccer, a hand ball results in a blue-card, two minute penalty regardless of the situation. In this case, Sosa was sent to the box and Milwaukee was awarded a shootout opportunity with 5 seconds remaining in overtime. The usually automatic Oliveira was bested by Waltman on the attempt though as the veteran goalkeeper forced him outside and shut down any angle towards goal.
For the first time in the team's history, the Comets would be headed towards a shootout to determine the game's winner.
Overtime Shootouts in the MASL consist of a best-of-three opportunity for each team. A player has 5 seconds to dribble on goal and try to score. The goalkeeper is restricted to his line until the clock starts.
Neither team converted their first two opportunities, but Vahid Assadpour and Oliveira each buried their team's third round shot, ensuring a sudden-death fourth round.
Gibson, who missed his first attempt, but would not be denied in his second. Oliveira was not successful in his final attempt however, and the Comets were finally awarded the victory they felt they had deserved at the end of regulation.
Following the game, Andonovski felt that he would likely be appeal any suspension that could result from his ejection. However, he was confident in his team should he be forced to miss any of the upcoming games. Assistant coach Goran Koradzov would be behind the bench in that case, with help coming from player/assistant Assadpour.
The team's most difficult week of the season continues as they now travel to St. Louis for a weekend match against their in-state rivals, the Ambush. The team is likely to be without Touloute and Palmer again as they recover from their injuries. The status of Coady Andrews does not look good either. He had an ankle injury that will be evaluated on Thursday afternoon in Kansas City by team doctors.