by Pete Richmire

INDEPENDENCE, MO - Over 3,200 Comets fans flocked to Cable Dahmer Arena on a Monday night and were treated to a thrilling Kansas City win in overtime over the visiting Utica City FC in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal playoff series. Nacho Flores scored two goals, including the game-winner, while Nicolau Neto stopped 17 shots in goal for the Comets to earn the win.

Kansas City came out shooting, firing 13 shots on goal in the first quarter and just over five minutes into the game, Zach Reget connected with Ramone Palmer who redirected a shot low and to the right of Utica keeper Andrew Coughlin to give the Comets a 1-0 lead.

Flores doubled the lead on his first marker of the game, a top-shelf laser on a restart to make it 2-0 with 7:25 to play in the first.

Rian Marques, who finished with a goal and an assist found a wide-open Leo Acosta at the far post for a one-timer tap in, and Kansas City was cruising at that point with a 3-0 lead by the end of the opening frame.

It was a special night for one member of the UCFC squad as Kelvin Oliveira made his MASL debut and put the league on notice with a three-point performance with two goals and an assist the very first time he suited up the MASL. His first goal of the night opened the scoring for Utica with an assist by Mo Ndiaye to cut the KC lead to 3-1 with 3:09 to go in the first half.

Following matching blue cards to Utica's Issak Somow and Michael Lenis for the Comets, Rian Marques took on two UCFC defenders and still managed to get a shot past Coughlin while the teams played four on four to push the Comets' lead back to three at 4-1 for the final goal of the second quarter. 

After the break, momentum clearly shifted in favor of Utica as they strung together three consecutive goals to eventually tie the game at 4-4 with 13:49 to play in the fourth quarter.

Kansas City had chances to win the game in regulation. With 2:02 to go in the third, Brian Wilkin stepped in goal for Utica after Coughlin picked up a blue card for handling outside the box. Flores' shootout attempt went just wide to the left and UCFC killed the ensuing power play to prevent the Comets from scoring.

The second big opportunity the Comets had was an apparent walla-scora goal scored by Christian Anderaos with 4:32 to play in the fourth. An official initiated review showed a handball by Anderaos and the goal was disallowed sending the game to the extra frame. 

Acosta put the pressure on immediately in overtime and fired a quick shot which was saved by Coughlin. The rebound was pounced on by Flores, who one-timed a volley to the back of the net to end the game and give the Comets a 1-0 series lead.

The Eastern Conference Semifinal series now shifts to New York on April 15 for Game 2 at the Adirondack Bank Center at 5:05 pm CDT. Should the series be tied after the second game, the teams will then play a 15-minute knock out game to determine who will advance to face the Milwaukee Wave in the Conference Finals.