Q&A With Coach Leo Gibson
The Kansas City Comets' 10th-anniversary season was one of ups and downs. Thrilling comebacks, exciting new talent and postseason accolades, but plenty of adversity, including injuries, availability issues, and an unceremonious end. It will also be remembered as the season Leo Gibson began the transition from star player to player/coach. To look back on the season that was and ahead to next campaign, we asked Coach a few questions.
Q: It was your 16th year as a professional soccer player, but also your first as coach. How did the experience compare to your expectations?
LEO: It was nothing like I thought. With my years of experience leading players on and off the field, I was surprised to find I initially struggled with managing my personnel. Regarding my game, coaching detracts from playing and playing detracts from coaching, especially during games. But as the season progressed, I disciplined myself to compartmentalize my efforts.
Q: Even with the added coaching duties, you led the league in assists, finished second in points and were a finalist for MVP. On paper, it doesn’t appear coaching detracted from your on-field production. In what ways was did the dual roles affect your performance?
LEO: Major congratulations to Frank Tayou for winning MVP. As I mentioned above, coaching was a struggle in the beginning, but I thank God I’ve been successful in putting mind over matter. The struggle was based on my inability to separate the two at first. I’d be on the field but concerned about the bench.
I’d exhaust myself preparing for every practice as both coach and player. But when I began to separate my roles at crucial moments, things came together. I remember after one game, my wife, who is a major Comets fan, told me it looked like I was more focused on my role as coach while I was on the field. And although she knows nothing about soccer (don’t tell her I said that), she was right.
I owe a great deal of thanks to Alan Mayer, Alain Matingou, Kim Roentved, USWNT Coach Vlatko Andonovski, Huw Williams, and most importantly my teammates and players. Because of these individuals, coaching did not detract from my game throughout the season. Comets players and coaches are particularly adept at recognizing what is needed of them at a moment’s notice.
I’d be remiss if I did not thank Comets owner Brian Budzinski. Brain’s love for soccer and for the Comets organization certainly made my job as easy as it could be and more fun than I expected.
Q: No one can deny your team showcased resilience this season. The comebacks. The overtimes. To what do you credit your team’s resilience and grit?
LEO: I have the most discipline, dedicated and determined guys as teammates and players. There are many moments throughout the season when we were operating at such deficits, we’d come to a huddle and I had a feeling after those conversations, momentum would switch in our favor.
Q: There was a core of veteran leaders on this team, yourself, Stefan Stokic, John Sosa and Lucas Rodriguez, to name a few. Guys who’ve been Comets for a decade. But several rookies also contributed considerably this season. Ray Saari and Ray Lee had each logged two games in prior seasons but still qualify as rookies by league standards, along with Lou Misner, Nicolau Neto, Hector Solorio, Matt Lewis and Nick McDonald. What do you think about the team’s infusion of youth?
LEO: There is a lot of wisdom on our team. We need that wisdom because the technique and tactics necessary to play indoor soccer well is learned over time. Our season would have been negatively effected without the leadership we had on the field. However, I’ve enjoyed adding younger, fresher minds to our bench. These players bring energy, vigor, and quite frankly, they see and interpret things differently.
Each of the players you mention improved a lot over the season and added quality to the team. These guys couldn’t have come to the team at a better time. I thought they all had a good season, and I strongly believe they are going to get better as their insight for the game of indoor gets better. We hope to find more young guys with good work ethic to join our roster.
Q: What was your favorite moment of the 2019/2020 season?
LEO: The game on Monday, Jan 20 at Milwaukee. We lost 7-6 with twenty seconds remaining to get to over time. It is one of my favorites because Comets grit and determination was evident. We barely had enough players to play that game due to injuries and the flu.
The last game of the season at Utica. This was a major comeback. I was out because of a red card. We did not have enough players for an away game, but the team’s togetherness and heart was incredible. I will never forget Robert Palmer’s performance. There is no question in my mind that Palmer should be Defender of the Year. Extraordinary performances by John Sosa and Gui Gomes made that game so exciting.