With two regular-season matches remaining, the Des Moines Menace is headed to the playoffs and needs one more point to claim sole possession of the Premier Development League’s Heartland Division championship.
Des Moines (9-1-4) takes on the Kansas City Brass (3-8-3) tomorrow night at 7 o’clock at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo. Casey Mann’s team will be back at Valley Stadium on Saturday for its last regular-season action – a 7:30 p.m. tilt against the St. Louis Lions (6-3-6).
Last Saturday’s 4-0 triumph over Springfield clinched the 10th playoff berth and the second division title (2002) in the franchise’s 16-year history. The last time the Menace qualified for postseason play was in 2006.
Sitting atop the division with 31 points, Des Moines owns at least a share of the title. The defending league champion Thunder Bay Chill (7-3-4, 25 points) must win at home against Rochester each of the next two nights to catch up to the Menace’s current point total.
Winning the division title outright is more than an honor for the Menace; it gives the club home-field advantage for the divisional round of the PDL playoffs. If the Menace wins or ties either of its remaining opportunities, the division’s second- and third-place teams will face off at Valley Stadium on July 24, for the opportunity to play the Menace the following night.
In a three-team fight for the two remaining playoff spots, Real Colorado (7-4-3) and St. Louis are one point behind Thunder Bay. Real Colorado finishes the season with Friday-Saturday road matches against Springfield and Kansas City. Saturday’s match against Des Moines is St. Louis’ final chance to gain ground in the playoff race.
The Menace has won its last two outings, and six of the last seven. Des Moines has strung together three straight road wins, extending the team’s road unbeaten streak to 13 matches, dating back to a 2-0 loss at Colorado on May 23, 2008.
The division champs have outscored the opposition 16-4 at home, where they hold a 5-1-1 record. Going into Saturday’s match, the team is averaging a PDL-best 3,800 fans per home match ---- 1,000 more fans than the league’s second-largest draw, the West Texas United Sockers.
RECAPPING LAST SATURDAY: The Menace surged past the Springfield Demize, lighting up the Valley Stadium scoreboard with four second-half goals, including three in the final seven minutes.
Ben Taylor, a halftime substitution, assisted Drake players Garrett Webb (50th minute) and Julien Edwards (84th) on headers before capping of the scoring with his own unassisted goal in the final minute.
Another Drake Bulldog, Hunter Kennedy, celebrated his birthday by scoring in the 87th minute. Stefan De Las assisted Kennedy’s second goal in two matches.
SCOUTING KANSAS CITY: The Menace shut out the Brass, 4-0, at Valley Stadium on June 20, 16 days after the teams tied, 1-1, at William Jewell College. The Brass’ three victories have come against last-place Springfield, and the sixth-place team has tied St. Louis twice.
Jefferson Roblee’s club is led by players from Iowa colleges. Drake’s Matt Kuhn paces the team with four goals. Matthew Klaus, from Graceland College, leads the Brass with nine points, on three goals and three assists. Eddie Edward, another Graceland player, scored in stoppage time to force the June 4 draw against the Menace, a team he played for briefly last season.
The Menace swept the teams’ 2008 series, 3-0, winning each match by a single goal. Kansas City finished fifth in the Heartland Division last year with a record of 6-9-1. Des Moines’ current six-match unbeaten stretch against the Brass goes back to a 1-3 loss at Liberty on May 16, 2007.
SCOUTING ST. LOUIS: The Lions have been a thorn in the Menace’s side. Des Moines has an all-time record of 1-3-6 against St. Louis, with its only win coming in the teams’ first meeting, in May 2006.
The season’s first two meetings between these rivals ended with St. Louis coming back to force a pair of 2-2 draws. The Lions edged the Menace for the division’s spot in the U.S. Open Cup with the result on May 23 on their home field. A week later, the Lions’ David Mueller stunned the crowd with a stoppage-time goal that helped the visitors come back after trailing by two goals with 10 minutes left in regulation.
Tony Glavin’s team is led by two players who have scored seven goals this season: Steven Beattie and Stephen Brocks. The Menace has kept Beattie, the 2008 NCAA Division II player of the year from Northern Kentucky, from notching a point in either of the two matches earlier this season. Beattie, who backed out of an early commitment to play for the Menace this season, has been ejected from a pair of matches, including May 30 in West Des Moines.
Beside the Lions, no other team has scored more than a goal against the Menace in a single match in 2009. Des Moines has posted five shutouts and allowed one goal in seven other matches. Through 14 matches, the division’s best defense has given up 11 goals – four fewer than Thunder Bay.
The Des Moines franchise record for fewest goals allowed in a regular season is 16 (in 16 matches), a mark set by the 2005 PDL champion club. The 2001 and 2002 teams each allowed 19 goals, playing an 18-match schedule.
The Menace and the Lions are tied for the division lead in goals scored (29).
Though the Lions (7-5-4) won last year’s season series (1-0-2), they finished a spot below the third-place Menace (7-4-5) in the divisional standings. They did, however, keep the Menace out of the 2008 playoffs. Last July 16, the Lions scored a late goal to secure a 2-2 tie at home against Des Moines, which would have made the postseason if it had won that match.
The last four battles between Des Moines and St. Louis have ended in a draw.
SATURDAY’S PROMOTIONS: Saturday is Fan Appreciation Night sponsored by Frito Lay. Fans wearing red get $5 admission, and the first 500 fans will receive cowbells. Joe’s Photo Booth will provide free photos. Saturday is also Drake Night. Anyone wearing Drake gear or presenting a Drake University I.D. receives a $5 ticket.
COMING UP: Saturday will mark the end of the regular season for the Menace, and the beginning of its playoff run. If the team gains one more point in the division standings, the team is guaranteed the opportunity to host the division’s second- and third-place teams the following weekend. The Menace will then face the winner from the July 24 first-round matchup in the division championship on July 25.
If the Menace does not tally another point in its last two matches and Thunder Bay wins its last two, a tie breaker determines the team that will host.