Former Menace player (and mascot) Ben Brackett has a multifaceted history with the organization. Photo credit: Anne Rogers
We've spotlighted Tomas Boltnar and J.R. Fernandes, and here's our third feature in this series.
Throughout the years, Ben Brackett has experienced many roles with the Des Moines Menace.
When he was 15 years old, he donned the Maniac mascot costume at Menace home games.
A few years later, he sported a Menace jersey and played for three years with the Premier Development League team.
And now, Brackett is entering his second year as a Menace Academy coach.
“It’s been great with the Menace,” Brackett said. “The club gives you full confidence and lets you coach the way you want to coach. For someone like me, that’s ideal. It’s an art not a science. You have to figure out the kids and see what works for them, what the vibe you’re getting from them is. Menace Academy gets that.”
Youth soccer legend
Many might say Brackett is one of the best youth soccer players Iowa has ever produced.
A West Des Moines native, he played for Valley High School and led the Tigers to a state championship in 2001 and runner-up title in 2002. He recorded 57 goals and 40 assists in his four years as a midfielder at Valley.
Brackett was the 2002 Iowa Gatorade Player of Year and the National Soccer Coaches Association State Player of the Year. He was also named to the NSCAA All-American Team.
In 2001 and 2002, he played for Nebraska Football Club Vincere and won the 18U U.S. Youth Soccer Regionals in 2002. At that point, the Omaha team was the only Nebraska side to ever win regionals, and Brackett, along with two other commuting Iowans, were the only Iowans to ever win regionals.
That year, Brackett guided NFC Vincere to a fourth-place finish at the U.S. Youth Soccer National Tournament.
During the summers after his junior and senior years, Brackett got his first taste of the Des Moines Menace, when he suited up for the Premier Development League team.
The stage was set for Brackett to play college soccer. He wanted to play Division I, he wanted to leave Iowa and he wanted a good academic setting.
He just needed to find a school that would fit that criteria.
An Ivy Leaguer
He found one more than 1,000 miles away at Brown University in Providence, R.I.
“When I got the opportunity to go out there, I was like, ‘Absolutely, I’m there,’” Brackett said. “It had everything I wanted.”
Brackett played all four years at Brown and led the Bears to three NCAA tournament appearances. His senior year earned him a spot on First Team All-Ivy. He ended his last year with Brown tied for the team lead and tied for fourth in the Ivy League with six goals.
After his first year at Brown, Brackett came back to Des Moines to play one more year for the Menace. The rest of his collegiate summer months saw him back on the East Coast playing for the now-extinct PDL teams Vermont Voltage and Rhode Island Stingrays. Following graduation in 2007, Brackett made the decision to stop playing.
“Soccer wasn’t what it is now,” Brackett said. “I wasn’t good enough to go straight to international or MLS play, and a lot of teams didn’t have a second-division team or anything. I wasn’t prepared to travel around and not make any money, basically.”
He wasn’t prepared to give up the game entirely, though. That’s why he turned to coaching.
A former player’s duty
Brackett began coaching with one of his college coaches for a youth soccer club, Bruno United FC. That opportunity shaped the way he thought about coaching – he felt like he was making a difference, and he wanted to do more of it.
After graduating from Brown, Brackett began to help run camps and clinics with a friend of his in Boston. A year later, he and his wife Paige, who is also from Iowa – they met at a Menace game – moved back to their home state. Brackett worked at Ferguson Commercial Real Estate, his current employer, and began coaching for West Des Moines Soccer Club.
Two years later, he became a youth technical director with U.S. Soccer, based in Chicago.
“The U.S. Soccer job wasn’t a great fit for me, but it was cool to at least get that experience on the administrative side,” Brackett said. “I found out that I really just like coaching soccer.”
After six months with U.S. Soccer, Brackett came back to Iowa and coached for WDMSC. He decided to coach for the Menace Academy last year because of his ties to the program and its director of coaching, Tomas Boltnar.
“When I played for the Menace, Tomas was always cool to me, and I’ve always had a ton of respect for him,” Brackett said. “He’s an awesome coach and great to work with.”
Brackett will coach the 17U boys this coming fall. He enjoys that age because he can speak to them like adults and – sometimes – they’ll listen to what he has to say.
He hopes he can impact his players the way his coaches did when he was in high school.
“My coaches had a huge impact on me and made me think, ‘Hey, maybe I can go do something great with this game,’” Brackett said. “I want my kids to go out and experience the world beyond Iowa and even beyond the Midwest because there’s so much out there, and they can go do so many things.”
Soccer has been Brackett’s passion since he was four or five years old. He has seen that passion in the Academy players and hopes to be an influence with them in the years to come.
“Coaching is my duty, as a former Iowa kid who played club and high school soccer here,” Bracket said. “This is my way of giving back to the game that gave me so much.”
Born: Nov. 12, 1984
Wife: Paige Brackett
Education: Brown University (Bachelor’s in Public and Private Sector Organization)
This story by Anne Rogers was posted Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017.