The last time Laurie Calloway and Neathan Gibson teamed up, they guided the Des Moines Menace to an undefeated season and the Premier Development League’s 2002 regular-season title.
The coaches are back together eight years later, sharing lofty aspirations for their 2010 Menace as the team opens the PDL season tonight on the road against the Springfield (Mo.) Demize. The season opener for both teams is set for 6 p.m. at Drury University’s Harrison Stadium.
Des Moines, the defending PDL Heartland Division regular-season and postseason champion, will see its first regular-season home action this Saturday, hosting the Rochester (Minn.) Thunder at Valley Stadium. All of the team’s home matches start at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re excited to get started,” said Calloway, who last November returned to the role of Menace head coach. “We’re going to bring an entertaining brand of soccer to our fans.”
A former Major League Soccer coach from Birmingham, England, Calloway has amassed more than 200 wins in a coaching career that started in 1978. In his two previous seasons with the organization, he led the Menace to fourth place in the 2001 PDL playoffs and the team’s only undefeated season, in 2002.
The 2002 Menace, featuring Gibson as a player-coach, outscored opponents 68-19 and finished the regular season with a 15-0-3 mark. Calloway and Gibson have set the team goal to score at least 60 goals this season – nearly double the 33 from last year’s division champs.
“The message to our players has been, ‘Let’s get forward – Let’s get goals.’ We’ve got to be more ambitious, a little more adventurous. We will be an attacking team.”
The Menace roster includes eight players who return from last year’s team, including leading goal-scorer Armin Mujdzic. The veteran standout from Urbandale and Grand View University is back for his eighth season with the team (2002-2007, 2009).
Calloway and Gibson have made it clear to their players that everyone will need to battle to earn a spot on this year’s team, regardless of past experience.
“There’s some tension. We’ve got a lot of guys competing for places as we start the season,” said Calloway. “I like what I’m seeing. They’re thinking, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do better.’ It’s a dog-eat-dog situation.”
Calloway and Gibson are working toward the goal of setting the team’s roster by the end of the month. The team opens with four qualifying matches for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup: this week’s matches and next week’s action at Kansas City (May 19) and at home against St. Louis (May 22). The rest of the schedule starts May 29, when Kansas City comes to Valley Stadium.
“Given the talent Laurie’s recruited, I think we can win. We’ve got a couple areas we need to solidify,” Gibson said. “Overall, we’ve got a great group of lads. They’re very respectful, and they’re working hard every day.”
Gibson, who turns 40 on Friday, was announced as the team’s assistant coach on April 2.
The South African was the third-leading scorer for the high-octane Menace in 2002. That season marked the start of his coaching career and the end of a playing career that included stops with professional teams in Finland, Japan, Malaysia and Sweden. In the year before joining the Menace, Gibson played for the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer before leading the Rochester Rhinos to the 2001 A-League championship.
“It seems like it was just last year,” Gibson said of his season with Calloway and the Menace. “It’s great to work with someone who has the wealth of knowledge that Laurie has – the experience alone, day in, day out and minute by minute, everything’s a learning experience. I think the boys are sometimes in awe when they listen to him.”
RECAPPING LAST SATURDAY: The Drake University Bulldogs pulled out a 1-0 win over the Menace at Valley Stadium in an exhibition promoted as a “Battle of the Elites.”
Michael Noonan pounced on a loose ball in the 24th minute to score the game’s only goal. Matt Kuhn, who has committed to play for the Menace this season, was credited with the assist.
“We knew (the Bulldogs) would come to play,” said Laurie Calloway, after his first game as Menace head coach since leading the team to the PDL’s 2002 regular-season title. “It was good to work together – A great experience, and the chance to take a look at all we’ve got.”
The game showcased two local teams coming off memorable seasons. The Menace advanced to the Elite Eight of the Premier Development League playoffs last summer; Drake made history with a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
SCOUTING SPRINGFIELD: With a new head coach, the Demize sets out to put together its first winning season. Logan Hoffman, an assistant at Drury University, takes over the reins of a franchise that has gone 6-40-2 in three seasons; the best finish was the 2007 team’s 4-11-1 mark and the low point was an 0-16 season in 2008.
Hoffman has at least eight players from his Drury squad that last season was ranked as high in the NCAA Division-II national polls. The Demize’s roster includes Ben Taylor, who led the Menace in points last season.
Taylor, listed as a defender, was a second team all-American last fall. He is joined by three other college teammates who are coming off all-America seasons: goalkeeper Stephen Connor (second team), forward Micah Whorton (third team) and midfielder Peter Higgins (honorable mention).
The Demize roster also features five players from the Missour State club that won the Missouri Valley Conference’s regular-season title in 2009.
The Menace is 8-0-0 all-time against the Demize. Des Moines swept the 2009 season series, winning 3-1 at Springfield (May 13) and 3-0 (June 27) and 4-0 (July 11) at home.
SCOUTING ROCHESTER: The Thunder started the 2010 season on the right foot, bringing home four points last weekend. Rochester opened with a 3-0 win at Real Colorado on Friday in an Open Cup qualifying match, and followed with a 1-1 draw the next night.
Bellevue University (Neb.) teammates Mark Heath-Preston and Sebastian Narvaez lead the way for Neil Cassidy’s side.
After scoring three goals last weekend and assisted Juan Chang on the team’s other score, Heath-Preston is second in the PDL with seven points. This matches his total from a year ago, when Hermann Trophy winner and MLS first-round pick Teal Bunbury was the only Thunder player with more points.
Narvaez, who tended goal for the Menace in early-spring exhibitions, carries a 0.50 Goals Against Average and 12 saves into Saturday’s match against the Menace.
Samuel Asante, one of the Menace’s points leaders last season, played a combined 74 minutes for the Thunder in its opening weekend.
Des Moines swept the teams’ three-game season series in the Thunder’s inaugural 2009 season. The Menace won each match by a single goal: 2-1 at home (May 9) and 1-0 and 2-1 at Rochester (June 28 and July 8). Rochester finished 5-9-2.
UPCOMING PROMOTIONS: Saturday’s regular-season home opener is presented by Verizon Wireless and marks the return of the popular Diamond Dig. All ladies have the chance to win a diamond necklace, sponsored by Charles Ganske and InFocus Partners.