Game one of the Ron Newman Cup semifinals between the Kansas City Comets and Florida Tropics had the feeling of a true heavyweight bout. After four lead changes, the Comets held on for the 8-7 win on Saturday evening at Cable Dahmer Arena.
It was very much a game of two halves. The Tropics had the first-half edge, taking the 11-goal first half 6-5. The Comets got the better of Florida in the four-goal second half, outscoring them 3-1, to take the 8-7 win.
The Comets came out hot, opening the game with a 2-0 lead following goals from Ray Lee and James Togbah. Both defenders sent rockets from the same corner.
“It helped the team,” Togbah said about the positive start. “Get in the rhythm of the game. Get in control and keep reminding that we are in this game.”
The Comets’ two-goal lead was short-lived as the Tropics managed to level it with a pair in the final two minutes of the opening frame. Zach Reget found Ricardinho Sobreira for the first one before a slick aerial attack was finished by Ricardo De Queiroz Digues with 37.1 seconds remaining to make it 2-2.
Florida made it three goals unanswered when Park University graduate and ex-Comet Kiel Williams scored his first of the night, firing in wide open near the penalty spot to give the visitors their first lead of the night. The Comets finally responded when Togbah found space before he unleashed another rocket past the keeper, bringing KC level 3-3 with over 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
Williams scored two more to complete his hat trick as both teams exchanged goals to bring the scoreline to 5-5. With less than 30 seconds remaining, the Tropics took the 6-5 lead as Ricardo Carvalho rolled it in from the restart.
“We had talked about that we just needed to play good defense,” player-coach Gibson said. “We were going to find ways to score goals and we were going to stay in the game.”
That is exactly what happened in the second half, beginning with Lee’s third of the night to pull the Comets level at 6-6 after a good combination with Gibson early in the third.
That effort was later canceled when Reget scored 33 seconds into the game’s first powerplay to put Florida up 7-6. Lesia Thetsane tied the game at 7-7, heading in a rebounded shot that was sent off the glass with just under six minutes left in the third.
Struggling to get anything in the attack, Marques finally had his big moment. With 3 minutes, 48 seconds remaining, Marques made no mistake to finish what proved to be the game-winner, assisted by Lee.
Both teams had a pair of standout performers. For the Comets, it was Lee and Togbah. Lee finished with three goals and two assists, just the second hat trick of his career and the second time he’s recorded five points in a game. Togbah scored two great goals and was big on defense. While held scoreless, player-coach Leo Gibson supplied two assists and had some crucial blocks.
For the Tropics, standout performances came from Reget and Williams. Reget ended the game with four points from a goal and three assists. Williams shined in the second quarter, where he contributed three goals from his second hat trick from his last three games.
After a high-scoring first half, the Comets managed the game and were solid defensively. Nicolau Neto had seven saves, five coming in the second half. The Tropics outshot the Comets 38-35 throughout Saturday’s contest.
The Comets are only halfway through the series. They will need one more win in Florida when both sides meet again next Saturday, April 23, for game two. A Comets win would clinch their first-ever MASL Finals berth and a Tropics win would force a series-deciding mini game.
“It’s going to take the same mentality,” Gibson said. “It's not over. We’re going to Florida. It’s their place. It’s going to be another battle. At the end of the day, we just need to focus on how we play, what we’re capable of doing and control what we can control.” Gibson added, “We can play our game. That is good defense and look to play good offense on the transition.”