Since the organization’s inception in 1994, the Des Moines Menace has sent more than 30 former players on to soccer’s professional ranks. Fifteen of these players remain in the pros today, including eight former Menace players on the rosters of Major League soccer teams, who wrapped up their regular season last weekend. This year, seven other Menace alumni played in the United Soccer Leagues’ First Division (USL-1) and Second Division (USL-2).
A trio of former Menace players made their MLS debuts in 2009, including a couple members of the 2008 Menace who were teammates at UNLV – Danny Cruz and Lamar Neagle – and veteran Leo Krupnik, a member of Des Moines’ 2002 and 2004 clubs.
The youngest player chosen in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, Cruz has split this year between the Houston Dynamo and the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team, which earlier this month was eliminated from the FIFA U-20 World Cup, played in Egypt.
Cruz made six regular-season appearances with the Dynamo. After finishing in second place in the Western Conference, Houston (13-8-9) opens the postseason with a conference semifinal series against Neagle’s Seattle Sounders.
Neagle, a Seattle-area native who starred for the Menace in 2007 and 2008, signed a free-agent contract with his hometown team in June. He made his official debut on July 18, playing in a friendly match against Chelsea, in front of more than 65,000 fans at Seattle’s Qwest Field. Neagle played the final 20 minutes of that 2-0 loss to the English Premier League power.
The expansion Sounders (12-7-11) won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, finished one spot behind Houston in the standings and set the MLS single-season attendance mark in their inaugural year. The Sounders and the Dynamo go head to head in a two-match conference semifinal series that opens on Thursday in Seattle and moves to Houston on Nov. 8.
Ezra Hendrickson, a standout with the 1994 Menace who played 12 MLS seasons before retiring last offseason, is a coach for the Sounders. He assists Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid, who recently became the winningest coach in MLS history. Hendrickson played eight seasons for Schmid, including two that ended with MLS Cup titles – in 2002 with Los Angeles and last year with Columbus.
Krupnik made his MLS debut on July 25. The journeyman defender signed a contract with the New York Red Bulls, seven years after the New York-New Jersey MetroStars selected him in the 2002 MLS SuperDraft. Though he spent some time with the MetroStars following his first stint with the Menace, he never played for the MLS first club back then, derailed by an injury.
A Ukraine native, Krupnik played the last four years in the Israeli Premier League and helped Maccabi Haifa clinch the league’s 2009 title before signing with the Red Bulls. He played in three games for New York (5-19-6), making two starts and playing 204 minutes. It was his first action on U.S. soil since playing for the USL-1 Charleston Battery from 2003-2005.
A pair of former Menace players have seen action with the Kansas City Wizards each of the last two years. Playing for the MLS team closest to Des Moines, Michael Kraus (2005) and Kevin Souter have each notched an MLS goal.
After making his MLS debut in the 2008 playoffs, Kraus made the most of the first moments of his first regular-season action. Less than two minutes after taking the field on March 28, he converted on a breakaway opportunity. His goal – the only one scored by a former Menace player in the MLS this season – stood as the Wizards’ only score in a 2-1 loss at the Colorado Rapids. Kraus appeared in 10 other matches for Kansas City (8-13-9).
Souter’s goal was a similar story. The Scotsman from NAIA Graceland College scored just three minutes after entering his second MLS game, a Wizards win over Toronto on Sept. 20, 2008.
Souter’s long-shot story is a source of inspiration. At the Wizards’ open try-outs, he beat out 200 other players from 15 countries for an unlikely roster spot. He earned playing time in nine regular-season and playoff matches in 2008, including six starts. Before a hernia surgery sidelined him, he started his only appearance this season, playing 61 minutes.
Kraus and Souter played for the Wizards in a couple early-season scrimmages against the Menace in 2009.
Three goalkeepers round out the list of eight former Menace players currently in Major League Soccer.
In his second MLS season, Josh Wicks (2003) recorded five shutouts, a 5-5-8 record and a 1.4 Goals Against Average. He started 19 matches for D.C. United (9-8-13), but was not in goal for Sunday’s regular-season finale at Kansas City. The Wizards spoiled D.C.’s playoff hopes, fighting back for a 2-2 tie on a stoppage-time penalty kick.
In 2008, Wicks played six matches for the Los Angeles Galaxy, who sent him to D.C. in a March trade. Wicks’ career has also included USL-1 stints with the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers.
Andy Gruenebaum, who led the Menace to the 2005 Premier Development League championship, has enjoyed the longest MLS tenure of any former Des Moines player currently in the league. In his fourth season with the Columbus Crew, Gruenebaum made 10 starts and recorded his fourth career shutout. He posted a 1.2 GAA and a 4-2-4 mark.
The defending MLS Cup champion, Columbus won the Supporters’ Shield for the second-straight year, by virtue of the league’s best regular-season record (13-7-10). The Crew’s title defense begins with a conference semifinal series against Real Salt Lake. The two-game series starts in Utah on Saturday and concludes in Columbus on Nov. 5.
Mike Graczyk, a goalie with the 2007 Menace, is on the roster of the San Jose Earthquakes (7-14-9). Graczyk signed a developmental contract with San Jose in March, after spending time with D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids in 2008.
USL-1 and USL-2
In 2009, four Menace alumni played with teams in the USL-1, the United Soccer Leagues’ highest level of professional soccer.
After three seasons with the USL-2 Charlotte Eagles, Joseph Kabwe (2003) caught on with the first-division Carolina RailHawks (16-7-7), who finished second in the 11-team circuit’s regular season. Kabwe, who represented Zimbabwe on his country’s national U20 and U23 teams, collected five goals and four assists in 16 games with Carolina. The Railhawks’ season ended in last month’s quarterfinals against Vancouver.
Last offseason, two veteran defenders with Menace ties joined the Charleston (S.C.) Battery. Matt Bobo (1998) and Frankie Sanfilippo (like Kabwe, a member of the 2003 Menace) played key roles in the Battery’s fourth-place season, which ended with a 14-5-11 regular-season mark. Charleston was knocked out of the quarterfinals by eventual champion Montreal.
Bobo, a Des Moines native, started in 30 of the 33 games he played, scoring a pair of goals. Sanfilippo made 35 starts and was second on the team in minutes played. The 2003 MLS draft pick had two goals and two assists.
A member of the 2007 Menace, Dan O’Brien played sparingly in three games with the Minnesota Thunder (7-13-10).
Three former Menace players were fixtures on USL-2 teams.
A year after playing together in Des Moines, Nicki Paterson and Cody Reinberg reunited as they started their pro careers with the Harrisburg City Islanders. Paterson (2007-08), the Menace’s leading scorer in 2008 and a former UNLV teammate of Cruz and Neagle, had a goal and two assists in 18 games. Reinberg, the 2008 Menace’s leader in minutes played, notched a pair of goals.
Harrisburg finished 9-7-4, securing third place in the nine-team league, before falling, 1-0, to eventual USL-2 champ Richmond in the semifinals in August.
In his second season with the Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads, Zeke Dombrowski (2006-2007) scored a pair of goals in 18 games and was second on the team in minutes played. After claiming the league’s regular-season title, Wilmington bowed out in the semis, falling to Charlotte, 1-0.
Menace Alumni Page – A list of Menace players who have played pro soccer; Includes links to the bio pages of active MLS players.
MLSnet.com: Danny Cruz thrilled to join Dynamo
The Seattle Times: Sounders FC signs Lamar Neagle
New York Post: Leo Krupnik the old (new) RBNY trialist
MLSnet.com: Michael Kraus gives unexpected thrill
NAIA: Kevin Souter is living his dream
MLSnet.com: Josh Wicks earning his keep in DC
Kentucky Wildcats: Andy Gruenebaum steps into spotlight
MLSnet.com: Mike Graczyk visits Boys and Girls Club
Major League Soccer
ABOUT THE MENACE: Preparing for its 17th season as Iowa’s Premier Soccer Team, the Des Moines Menace competes in the 68-team Premier Development League (PDL), the highest amateur level of the United Soccer Leagues (USL). The Menace plays its home matches in a fun, family-friendly environment at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines.