The 2019-20 Kansas City Comets season was quite a ride highlighted by visa issues and a premature end to the season. Before we get into what went right and what went wrong, let’s recall the changes entering the season.
The Comets entered the season returning most of the team, but saw some notable offseason departures of captain Bryan Perez (now with Wichita Wings), James Togbah (now with Utica City FC), Alain Matingou (served as Comets assistant coach), and the departure of head coach Kim Roentved (replaced by Leo Gibson in the player-coach role).
After Kevin Ellis had originally decided not to return, the former Sporting KC defender changed his mind, and ended up having a productive season where he appeared in 10 games, scoring 14 goals and added two assists.
After not featuring in any of the opening games, the Comets traded defender Anthony Grant (appeared in just 6 games for the Ambush) to the St. Louis Ambush in January for future considerations.
The Comets did have some exciting offseason acquisitions, as the Brazilian duo of Nicolau Neto and Lucas Sousa joined the signings of Hector Solorio, Ray Saari, Ray Lee, and Matt Lewis.
In the end, Hector Solorio was the only one who had a smooth season. Both Neto and Sousa had visa issues, but Neto was finally cleared in January while Sousa was sent to Wichita after his visa never cleared. Saari, Lee, and Lewis all had productive seasons with the Comets, but left midway through the season to join their respective outdoor teams.
In previous seasons the MASL was split into four divisions where the top two teams from each division made the playoffs. This season the MASL split league into two divisions, with the top four teams from both divisions qualifying for the planned postseason. In a very competitive Eastern Conference, the Comets sat sixth and already out of playoff contention when the league decided to cancel the remainder of the regular season.
Along with all this was the first season of Leo Gibson leading the way as player-coach. Gibson’s first season was a roller coaster that posted a 10-11 record.
Wins: vs St. Louis Ambush(2); @ Mesquite Outlaws; vs Tacoma Stars; vs Orlando SeaWolves (2); vs Milwaukee Wave; vs Rochester Lancers; vs Harrisburg Heat; @ Utica City FC
Losses: @ Turlock Cal Express; @ St. Louis Ambush (3); @ Dallas Sidekicks; vs Milwaukee Wave (2); @ Milwaukee Wave (2); vs Ontario Fury; @ Rochester Lancers
The Comets definitely had a talented squad, but too many moments of regret, a lackluster start to the season, and some unavoidable circumstances spoiled what could have been another run into the postseason.
At the beginning of the season Nicolau Neto, Lucas Sousa, Robert Palmer, and Ramone Palmer were all dealing with visa issues. Robert Palmer was able to get his issues resolved quickly while Neto’s problems took some time, but Sousa and Ramone Palmer were never resolved. While it is still uncertain what Sousa would have brought to the Comets, the Park University graduate was ‘loaned’ to M2’s Wichita Wings, where he played five games, but managed to score 16 goals and record five assists. Ramone Palmer’s absence was also a big miss for KC. Ramone would have brought more attacking experience and great quickness in tight situations.
The depth was tested in the second half of the season after Saari, Lee, and Lewis all departed along with the season ending injury of Robert Kelly. Lee was the best of the bunch, recording 14 points from 10 goals and four assists in 12 games. This forced the team into signing Odaine Sinclair and Nick McDonald to add more depth. While the visa issues are out of the team’s control, it is not ideal to have three solid players leave in the middle of a playoff run.
In his first year of player-coach, Leo Gibson remained very productive on the field. Leading the league with 31 assists and finishing with 60 total points, Gibson proved that he can do both. Gibson also showed that he can still drop and play in the defensive rotation. The only concern was the amount of minutes played. At times, Gibson was too tired to be as effective as he should have been. The Comets player-coach must be more selective in his moments to stay on the field for long periods of time. From the player-coaching aspect, I think it is best to give the in-game coaching to assistant coaches Alan Mayer and Alain Matingou.
After featuring four goalkeepers throughout the season, the new signing of Nicolau Neto appears to be the future. Neto had some very impressive moments in his rookie campaign, which got started with a win over Milwaukee in his January debut. Neto will get better with experience, but his big frame got him into trouble at times by allowing opposition attackers to score quite often by placing the ball under the keeper (example below).
Leo Gibson- All-MASL Third Team
Robert Palmer- All-MASL Honorable Mention
Ray Lee- All-MASL Rookie Team
Nicolau Neto- All-MASL Rookie Honorable Mention
The following players achieved career highs: Kiel Williams (15 goals; 11 assists; 26 points) Robert Palmer (14 goals; 20 points; 49 blocks), Kevin Ellis (14 goals; 16 points), Adam James (8 goals; 7 assists; 15 points), and Gui Gomes (9 goals; 3 assists; 12 points).
While they would have missed the playoffs, there were still some bright spots that the organization should build on for next season. The Comets will need to improve their away record next season after going 2-8 outside of SEC Arena. That may very well happen with the possibility of the Wichita Wings entering the MASL after such a successful campaign in M2. This would be huge for the Comets because the Comets would then play the Wings four or five times, while only a couple games against the Wave.
Top 3 Moments of 2019-20:
3) Comets 7-6 Utica City FC (OT)
After being down the entire game, the Comets overturned what was once a 6-2 deficit to draw level at 6-6 after Adam James scored one and Robert Palmer scored three in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. The Comets grabbed the winner 25 seconds into overtime after Gui Gomes slammed the golden goal past the keeper off the restart from John Sosa. While we didn’t know it at the time, it was an epic way to end the season, less than 24 hours after suffering a humbling defeat to the winless Rochester Lancers.
2) Comets 6-5 Harrisburg Heat(OT)
Things got lively in the second half after the first half ended 2-2, as two goals from Lucas Rodriguez with Ignacio Flores and Kevin Ellis each knotching goals to force overtime tied at 5-5. As the overtime clock winded under five seconds, Leo Gibson held the ball to take the last shot, but the ball ended up finding Lucas Rodriguez, who didn’t catch it cleanly, but his shot found the back of the net with the aid of a deflection for the buzzer beater in overtime. Not the cleanest goal you will ever see, but an incredible end to an exciting game.
After things seemed to be on the verge of getting out of hand as the Wave had a firm 7-2 lead, the Comets scored seven consecutive goals before a late Wave goal sent the final scoreline at 9-8 in favor of KC. The Wave had previously won 11 of the 12 meeting before, so this was a huge win over a tough opponent.