It had to be Missouri.
Surrendering a 13-point second-half lead and losing 18-15 would be an upsetting way to start the season against any opponent. But for the Wings, who have yet to solve their cross-state rival, losing in such a fashion to the Comets on the road Friday night was borderline demoralizing.
Once Wichita lost momentum in the second half, it could never retrieve it. The Wings had chances to slow Missouri’s scoring spree, but those efforts proved futile as the Comets carried over scoring the last two goals of the first half to outscoring the Wings 14-2 in the second.
“It’s our rivalry,” Wings coach LeBaron Hollimon said. “It’s a natural rivalry and those are the games you really want to win. You want to win them all, but it’s kind of like the Red Sox and the Yankees playing. There’s a little extra edge to those games. I’m not going to lie, that stings. You’re winning 13-0, and you shouldn’t lose games when you’re winning 13-0.
The Comets claimed the second and final playoff spot in the Central Division last season, beating the Wings four times in six games. Wichita appeared to have closed the gap this offseason, signing away from Missouri Geison Moura, the MISL MVP, and adding other prominent scorers such as Miguel Ferrer, Tiguinho and Brad Hoxie.
Not much may have been learned about the current status of the rivalry, because even though Friday’s final score was close, it didn’t come as a result of a back-and-forth game. Both teams went on long scoring runs, during which it appeared either one could be viable for this year’s playoffs.
Missouri reloaded, adding former Major League Soccer player Will John, among others. John scored the fifth of eight consecutive Comets goals Friday night.
“The thing that I noticed is that at any given point, for this indoor game, the game is never over,” Hollimon said. “With a team that has veterans and seasoned players like (Missouri), they’re not just going to roll over and give you the game just because you’re winning by a big margin.”
Though they were mostly contained within the first half, Friday’s loss featured plenty of positives. New players scored all of Wichita’s goals; Andrew Hoxie had a hat trick and totaled eight points and Moura scored two goals.
Moura’s penalty kick brought the Wings to within a point with just over a minute to go, but Missouri scored on an empty net as the Wings employed a sixth attacker for the final stretch.
“It was very good integrating (new players) into what we’re trying to do,” Hollimon said. “Andrew Hoxie, he was outstanding (Friday), evidenced not just by the points that he scored but the way he scored the points and his impact in the game.
“It was a very good game for us under a situation where maximum concentration had to have been had. Those guys who are new to it got to experience in a situation that’s going to force their development.”
Another potential bright spot from the loss is that the Wings don’t have to wait long to try to avenge it. The teams meet Sunday afternoon in Wichita’s home opener at Hartman Arena, where Wichita was 1-2 against Missouri in the Wings’ inaugural season.
“We had some chances, too,” Hollimon said. “That’s the indoor game. We’ve got to learn from it, which we will. The best part of (Friday’s) game is that we get to play again Sunday. We put that one aside, learn from it, then hopefully correct the mistakes and have some good results in front of our home fans.”