As the Missouri Comets saw their late comeback and hopes of a consecutive league title ending Sunday, emotions previously confined to an already-heated game were ready to erupt.
Then, like the cups thrown from the stands at the officials, they spilled onto the field — and eventually off it — as the Major Indoor Soccer League Eastern Conference finals ended with two red cards, the questioning of referees, verbal sparring between coaches, a postgame head butt and the intervention of police and security personnel.
While two late Baltimore goals sealed the Blast’s 10-7 win and 2-0 series sweep in front of 3,862 at the Independence Events Center, the tone had been set early by contentious officiating.
Missouri, 21-2, became unsettled by several referee decisions in the second period, which it entered ahead 1-0.
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“I don’t mind losing fair and square, but I have a problem when a referee can directly dictate the game, and tonight the two officials had a lot of influence with the result,” Comets captain Vahid Assadpour said. “It gets to the players, and the players take it out on each other.”
Coach Vlatko Andonovski shared concerns after witnessing a phone conversation between Blast owner Edwin F. Hale Sr. and senior referee Ryan Cigich more than an hour before the game.
“They can be talking about anything but soccer, but that still should not happen,” Andonovski said. “In some capacity that influences people’s minds.”
The series was the teams’ first meeting since the Comets — who had been undefeated before Friday’s loss — won a dramatic Major Indoor Soccer League championship last year. Nearly an hour after the game, Hale further stoked the semi-dormant rivalry.
“You know why (Missouri was 21-0)? Because they didn’t (expletive) play us,” he said to two reporters.
To get there, Baltimore, 21-2, scored four goals in that second period and never trailed again, despite the Comets outshooting the Blast in each period and 31-19 overall.
When the Blast clinched it with the late goals, frustration fully erupted. The Comets’ John Sosa was shown a red card for confronting a referee, and Brian Harris was ejected for a violent tackle in the final seconds.
After the game, as police and security attempted to separate and usher players and coaches off the field, the Comets’ Andre Braithwaite head-butted Baltimore defender Pat Healey, igniting a new round of confrontations into the locker room tunnel that included Hale, the Blast owner, arguing with Independence police officers.
“I did not see it (Braithwaite’s head butt),” Andonovski said, “but if he did, I sincerely apologize to the whole Baltimore organization and the league and anyone who saw it because that’s not who I am or who this organization is.”
The Comets tweeted after the game that Braithwaite has been released, effective immediately.
Braithwaite was pulled aside after the post-game autograph session by an Independence police officer but allowed to leave after a few questions.
“You win with class and you lose with class. They obviously didn’t lose with class,” Baltimore coach Danny Kelly said more than a half hour after the teams had separated. “From what Harris did, what Braithwaite did, it’s a black eye for their team and for the league. It’s just gutless behavior.”