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Menace hosts Lions in final Open Cup qualifier

The Des Moines Menace hosts the St. Louis Lions on Blackout Night, needing a win in order to stay in the running for a spot in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Saturday’s match – a 7:30 start at Valley Stadium – is Des Moines’ final Open Cup qualifier.

The Menace (2-1-0) obtained a much-needed three points with Wednesday’s 2-1 win at Kansas City. Laurie Calloway’s side is tied with the Rochester Thunder in the qualifying stage of the Open Cup. The Thunder (2-0-1 overall, 2-0-0 in cup qualifiers), however, holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Menace, thanks to a 1-0 victory at Valley Stadium last Saturday.

Rochester also has the edge, with two remaining opportunities to pick up points. The Thunder hosts the Lions on Sunday. The Minnesota team’s final qualifier comes May 30, when Kansas City comes to town after playing on the Menace’s home turf the previous night.

The team with the most points after the four-game qualifying stage will earn the Premier Development League’s Heartland Division bid.

“We need to win at all costs,” said Menace forward Lebogang Moloto, whose goal was the difference in Wednesday’s victory. “It’s not going to be easy.

Standing in Des Moines’ way is rival St. Louis (0-1-0), a team that has earned the division’s Open Cup bid the past two seasons. Both teams were undefeated last year heading into the final qualifying match, and they played to a 2-2 draw. The difference was a goal differential tiebreaker, which left the Menace on the outside looking in.

Des Moines has had success on the road, but has yet to win in front of its home crowd. After wins at Springfiel (Mo.) and Kansas City, the team has a 16-game unbeaten streak on the road, going back to May 2008. The Menace has gone scoreless in two games at Valley Stadium – dropping a pair of 1-0 games to Drake University and Rochester the last two Saturdays.

“We have to make sure we win at home,” Moloto said. “We can’t leave the fans disappointed again.”

The Menace is looking to advance to the cup for the first time since 2006. After playing St. Louis Saturday, Des Moines will instantly become the Lions’ biggest fans as St. Louis travels to Rochester to take on the Thunder Sunday.

The Menace has twice made back-to-back appearances in the Open Cup (2002, 2003 and 2005, 2006). In order for the team to make its fifth cup appearance, Des Moines needs to win Saturday and get some help from St. Louis and Kansas City. Rochester clinches a tournament spot with a win against either team.

RECAPPING WEDNESDAY: The Menace survived a lightning-delayed affair against the Kansas City Brass at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., on Wednesday, returning home with a 2-1 win.

Des Moines dropped behind early when Kalen Ryden was whistled with a foul in the box on what looked like a missed offside call. Chris Markey converted the penalty kick to put the Brass on top 1-0 in the 23rd minute.

The Menace responded eight minutes later. Stephen Okai was tackled in the box, and Clark Bradford rifled a penalty kick past the goalkeeper to knot things up.

Minutes into the second half, Lebogang Moloto made a nifty move to slice through the Brass defense and score game-winner. A lightning-filled storm caused a 30-minute delay, but when the action resumed, the Menace closed out the final 35 minutes of play to secure the victory.

SCOUTING ST. LOUIS: The Lions are looking to bounce back from a season-opening loss and advance to the Open Cup for the third straight year. St. Louis dropped a 2-0 decision to Real Colorado at home on Saturday.

The Menace is 2-3-6 all-time versus St. Louis, including four draws over the last two seasons. The teams tied in back-to-back games a year ago.

With both teams undefeated heading into the final qualifying match of the Open Cup, St. Louis scored in the 74th minute on May 23 to earn a 2-2 tie at home and earn the division’s berth on a tiebreaker. A week later at Valley Stadium, the Lions erased a 2-0 deficit in the final 10 minutes to earn another 2-2 draw.

Des Moines avenged the ties on July 18, shutting down the Lions, 3-0 in the 2009 regular-season finale – the team’s first home win over the Lions in six tries. The Menace is 1-2-3 all-time at home against St. Louis.

Tony Glavin, the Lions’ head coach since their inaugural 2006 season, holds a record of 30-21-16. The Lions were 6-4-6 in 2009.

UPCOMING PROMOTIONS: The Menace will host “Blackout Night” against St. Louis this Saturday, sponsored by Hubbell Realty and CB Richard Ellis. Des Moines will don black jerseys and all fans are encouraged to wear black. Fans wearing black t-shirts will receive a ticket for only $5. All 2010 home games are on Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday will also mark the first game for the 2010 Cleat Crew. Members of the kids’ club will get a t-shirt, admission to three select games (May 22, June 26, and July 24), and a hot dog and drink at each of the three games. Cleat Crew membership is just $5 for kids 13 and under.

MENACE PLAYERS AT THE SCIENCE CENTER: Menace players will be at the Science Center of Iowa (401 W. MLK Parkway in downtown Des Moines) from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday, showing children “the Science of Soccer.” SCI members receive $2 off admission for Saturday’s game.

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