The Comets’ perfect 20-0 Major Arena Soccer League regular season, as impressive as it was, meant nothing during the team’s first playoff game Thursday night.
They faced the Milwaukee Wave for the Central Division title, and like the previous two meetings during the season, the Comets’ 8-2 victory did not come easily.
“Milwaukee, when you play against them, it’s always a physical game,” Comets defender Alain Matingou said.
The intensity led to a hard-fought first quarter that ended in a 1-1 tie. Hints of a close game had the crowd of 3,441 at the Independence Events Center erupting at every Missouri scoring opportunity.
The fans were rewarded for their patience with a four-goal second quarter. The most impressive play during the run began with Matingou as he sized up a Milwaukee defender. Matingou feinted right, and then went left so quickly that his defender froze. Matingou tapped a pass to Bryan Perez in front of the goal for an easy punch-in that pushed the lead to 3-1.
“Coach always says to go one-on-one,” Matingou said. “When I received the ball, I thought, ‘I’m going to go at him,’ and it went pretty well and we scored.”
Tensions continued to build throughout the second quarter. Following an inadvertent goal by Milwaukee’s Victor Quiroz that extended the Comets’ lead to 4-1, Quiroz and Perez got into a heated exchange. No penalties were called, but the play signified Milwaukee’s growing desperation. When Vahid Assadpour scored with just 10.6 seconds to go before halftime and made it 5-1, a Comets victory seemed inevitable.
Missouri will play at 6:35 today at Baltimore in the first of two semifinal games against the Blast. The teams, in a rematch of last year’s MISL championship, will play at 6:35 p.m. The second game will be played at at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Independence Events Center.
The disadvantage of a fast turnaround for the Comets is amplified considering Baltimore had Thursday to rest. Missouri coach Vlatko Andonovski said that while he wasn’t happy with the scheduling, he’s accepted that there’s nothing to do but play the game.
“I think they’re a better team than last year,” Andonovski said. “They have an advantage because of home court and the schedule. … We’ll look to keep that intensity up.”
▪ Andonovski has been nominated for MASL coach of the year, and four of his players are also up for awards.
Leo Gibson has been nominated for most valuable player, John Sosa and Brian Harris are up for defender of the year, and Danny Waltman is competing for the top goalkeeper award.