LIBERTY, Mo. – Make no mistake about it, the Des Moines Menace is the one and only 2009 Heartland Division champion. The team claims sole possession of the division crown, after a 3-2 win over the Kansas City Brass tonight at William Jewell College.
Going into tonight’s Premier Development League action, Casey Mann’s team knew it needed a win or a tie in one of its remaining two matches to own the division title outright and guarantee the opportunity to host the opening round of the playoffs on July 24-25. It turns out that tonight’s win was just icing on the cake, as second-place Thunder Bay closed its schedule with a 1-1 tie at home tonight against Rochester.
The Menace heads into Saturday’s regular-season finale with a 10-1-4 mark (34 points) – five points better than Thunder Bay (8-3-5), which has locked up a playoff spot to defend its league title. Real Colorado (7-4-3) can finish with 30 points if it wins its final two matches; St. Louis (6-3-6) needs to beat the Menace on Saturday to get to 27 points.
“You never want to share a trophy,” Mann said tonight, after his players gave him a celebratory ice shower. Fortunately, he was wearing a rain jacket. “Our guys feel good about it, but we’ve still got quite a few goals ahead. We want to keep the ball rolling.”
Yuki Kariya got things rolling tonight by scoring his first two goals of the season, and Garrett Webb collected his first two assists.
Playing against his former team, Webb set up Kariya in the 30th minute to knot the match at 1. Kariya gave the Menace the halftime lead, thanks to Sterling Copeland’s assist in the 42nd minute. Were it not for an offsides call that negated his goal in the fourth minute, Kariya would have notched a hat trick before the intermission.
Webb assisted Ben Taylor in the 62nd minute, unselfishly giving up an open shot to set up the team’s point leader (13), who has notched six points in the last two outings.
Taylor’s fourth goal of the season stands as the game-winner, as the Brass’ Curt McDonald scored in the final minute of regulation.
Colton Hemming spotted the home team the early lead. His tally in the 15th minute was only the second first-half goal the Menace has surrendered in its last 11 matches, and it marked only the fourth occasion that Des Moines has trailed this season.
Kansas City is 3-9-3 going into its season finale – the chance to play the spoiler when it hosts Real Colorado on Saturday.
Des Moines has won seven of its last eight, and is unbeaten in 24 of its last 27. The team is undefeated in 14 straight road matches, dating back to a 2-0 loss at Colorado on May 23, 2008.
This is the second division crown in the Menace’s 16 seasons. Des Moines makes its 10th postseason appearance, preparing to host the division’s second- and third-place teams, who will face off at Valley Stadium on July 24. The winner of that opening-round match will play the Menace the following night.
Mann was quick to give much of the credit to the team’s loyal fans, on a night when a contingent from the Red Army supporters club made the trip to cheer on the Menace.
“Those people make it such a great environment. They’ve been great to us all year,” said the head coach. “This trophy is as much about the people who support the team, as it is about the players on the field.”
With the division title locked up, Mann’s crew has the opportunity to take a small breather when it hosts St. Louis on Saturday.
“We’ve earned the right,” Mann said. “We need to rest up, get rejuvenated, get back to it, and get going.”
COMING UP: The Menace welcomes the St. Louis Lions for a 7:30 p.m. kick-off Saturday at Valley Stadium. Tony Glavin’s team leads the all-time series, 3-1-6 and has yet to lose on the Menace’s home turf. These rivals have tied their last four meetings, include back-to-back 2-2 draws on May 23 and May 30. Before tonight, St. Louis was the only team to score at least two goals against Des Moines in a single match this season.
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.