The city of Des Moines sent two soccer teams to the Elite Eight of national tournaments in 2009. Those teams go head-to-head Saturday night at Valley Stadium, when the Des Moines Menace hosts the Drake University Bulldogs.
The Menace advanced to the postseason quarterfinals of the 68-team Premier Development League last summer, and Drake is coming off a memorable run last fall. The Bulldogs came within one win of reaching the 2009 College Cup, the Final Four of the NCAA Division-I Championship.
“I think this is a good chance for the community to come out and support the game,” said Sean Holmes, who is in his 13th year as Drake’s head coach. “Anytime we can put together a game that people can get excited about, it’s a good thing.”
The 7:30 exhibition marks the start of the Menace’s 2010 season. It is the only preseason tune-up, as the team opens the regular season on Wednesday at Springfield (Mo.) and will be back at Valley Stadium on May 15 to host Rochester (Minn.) in the regular-season home opener.
“This game will be a great way to kick off the Menace season and recognize Drake’s fabulous Elite Eight performance,” said Menace head coach Laurie Calloway.
This season marks Calloway’s return to Des Moines. The England native guided the Menace in 2001-2002, when the team went 27-7-5, finished fourth in the 2001 PDL playoffs and claimed the league’s 2002 regular-season title.
The Menace went undefeated (15-0-3) in 2002, when Calloway was named PDL Coach of the Year. Neathan Gibson, a South Africa native who starred that season for the Menace as a player-coach, is back on the Des Moines sideline, assisting Calloway.
Calloway and Gibson anticipate seeing their team play 11 versus 11 for the first time.
“For us, it’s the first opportunity to see our PDL players in a game. We’ve just been practicing,” Calloway said. “We’re trying to create some sort of shape, and to figure out our players’ strengths and weaknesses, as we identify what system works best for our players.It’s basically a two-hour practice. I’ll be looking at roles for each of our players; ‘Can they do what we’re asking of them?’ This is very much another practice.”
The Menace and Drake have a history of working together. In 2009, several Bulldogs helped the Menace (11-1-4) to the Heartland Division’s regular-season and post-season championships. Among the Drake players in the Menace’s lineup last season were first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference performers Julien Edwards and Garrett Webb, and Iowa natives Nick Foster (West Des Moines) and Hunter Kennedy (Cedar Rapids).
Edwards and Webb, who were all-Missouri Valley Conference and NCAA all-region picks as seniors last fall, will suit up for the Menace tomorrow night. Foster and Kennedy will play against the Menace before joining the team next week. Fellow Bulldogs Matt Kuhn, Kenan Malicevic and Michael Thaden have also committed to play for the Menace after Saturday.
“It’s good for our players to get a chance to play for Laurie,” said Holmes. “The PDL’s provided a good opportunity for our guys to play in the summer. It’s been great for our program. We’ve had a great relationship with the Menace.”
Last fall, Drake (16-7-2) finished eighth in the final coaches’ poll and RPI standings. The Bulldogs won their first-ever MVC Tournament crown and kept their postseason alive with NCAA Tournament wins over Western Illinois, Ohio State and Boston College. The Cinderella run ended with a 2-1 loss at North Carolina in December.
“Drake is a tough opponent,” Calloway said. This will be their seventh or eighth game in the few weeks, so they should be more established. They’re an excellent college team. We’re an excellent college all-star team in the making. For our guys, this is the first chance to stake a claim for a starting spot. Our guys relish the opportunity to play a very competitive college team.”
Holmes’ squad was honored as the College Team of the Year at the first annual Central Iowa Sports Awards, presented by the Des Moines Area Sports Commission in February.
The Drake coach called Calloway “one of the legends in the North American game.” He watched Calloway play for the San Jose Earthquakes of the North American Soccer League in the late 1970s.
Holmes recalled buying his first satellite dish, in 1996, to watch the first game in Major League Soccer history. Calloway’s San Jose Clash won the inaugural MLS game, claiming a 1-0 win over eventual champion DC United.
SPECIAL GUEST: Alberto Garcia Aspe, a former captain for the Mexican national team, will make a special guest appearance as part of the Des Moines Menace’s 2010 Opening Night festivities.
Garcia Aspe played 14 seasons for his country (1988-2002) and was a six-time captain. He made 109 international appearances and played in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups. A midfielder, he scored 21 goals, including a goal in each of his first two World Cups.
The Menace will introduce Garcia Aspe at halftime of a 5 p.m. International League match. He will sign autographs from approximately 5:45 until 7 o’clock. The special guest will present the game ball for the Menace-Drake exhibition.
Aspe’s appearances are presented by Kum & Go and Coca-Cola. You can read more here.