WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – The wait is almost over. The Des Moines Menace hosts AC St. Louis tomorrow, marking the team’s first action in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in four years. Game time for the first-round match is set for 7:30 p.m. at Valley Stadium.
This is the Menace’s fifth appearance in the Open Cup (2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006). In each of its last two runs, the team advanced to the tournament’s fourth round; each trip ended with a loss to the Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer. In order to play an MLS team this time around, Des Moines needs to win in the first and second rounds.
Standing in the Menace’s way is AC St. Louis. The first-year club is a member of the United States Soccer Federation-Division 2 Professional League, which is one step below the MLS.
The winner of this game advances to the second round on June 22. It will play the winner of NSC Minnesota, also a member of the USSF-Division 2 Pro League, and the Kansas City Athletics, a member of the United States Adult Soccer Association. Should the Menace advance and NSC Minnesota win, Des Moines will be on the road in round two. If Kansas City pulls off the upset, the Menace will host the Athletics.
One trend the Menace is guaranteed to break is a streak of four consecutive ties. If needed, Tuesday’s match will go to extra time and possibly penalty kicks to determine a winner.
Despite three of the four ties coming on the road, Menace head coach Laurie Calloway believes his team wasted chances of separating itself from a five-team jumble in the PDL Heartland Division standings. The Menace (4-1-4, 16 points) now sits in second place behind Rochester (5-2-2, 17 points).
“We’re making chances,” he said. “All we got to do is find someone who can put the bloody ball in the net.”
The Menace also carries a seven game unbeaten streak into Tuesday. The last time Des Moines lost was on May 15, suffering a 1-0 setback at home against Rochester (Minn.).
Des Moines continues its busiest week of the season this weekend. After tying the St. Louis Lions in a PDL match on Sunday, the Menace hurried back to rest up for Tuesday. The team heads to Canada for a pair of games at Thunder Bay on Friday and Saturday. The Chill (4-1-0) has been anything but cold to start the season, outscoring opponents 16-3 in its first five matches.
But for now, Calloway said, the focus is on the U.S. Open Cup.
“One step at a time. Don’t want to think about Thunder Bay until after this Tuesday’s game,” he said. “(AC St. Louis) will be tough; all pro teams are. They aren’t pro teams for nothing. I think they’ll be dangerous, but I think we’ve got a heck of a chance to knock these guys off.”
Calloway led the Menace to its first-ever appearance in the Open Cup. He is back as the Menace’s skipper for the first time after that 2002 season, when Des Moines lost to the USL-1 Rochester Rhinos, 3-2 in overtime, in the cup’s second round.
The Menace is 7-4 all-time in the Open Cup. Among the more than 60 teams in the PDL, only one franchise – the Michigan Bucks – has more berths (eight) or more wins (nine) in the national tournament.
FAN'S GUIDE TO THE OPEN CUP
RECAPPING LAST WEEK: The Menace tied Real Colorado, 1-1, for the third time in eight days last Saturday, then traveled to St. Louis and tied the Lions, 1-1, the next day.
The Menace traveled to Real Colorado and tied the Foxes in consecutive games on June 5 and 6. Des Moines hoped that a change of scenery at home would change the outcome, but it didn’t. The Foxes scored in the second minute, but the Menace responded with a goal in the 49th minute when midfielder Jubril Lawal scored on a corner kick from Logan McDaniel.
Despite losing Lawal to a red card in the 63rd minute, the Menace outshot Real Colorado 18-2 in the second half. Midfielder Jacob Schmoker took a shot that appeared to hit a Fox’s hand in the box in the final minute of stoppage time, but the referee’s whistle was silent and the game ended in a draw.
On Sunday, Des Moines took a first-half lead for the first time this season. Sterling Copeland was tackled in the box in the 20th minute and earned a penalty kick. McDaniel converted the shot to put the Menace on the board.
It appeared Des Moines was going to return home with a much-needed three points. However, not converting on its many chances came back to haunt the team. St. Louis’ Stuart Wark checked into the game in the 80th minute, and delivered to equalizer two minutes later. His goal salvaged a point for the Lions, and sent the Menace packing with another disappointing tie.
SCOUTING AC ST. LOUIS: AC St. Louis is 2-7-1 in its inaugural season in the USSF-Division 2 Pro League, as a member of the North American Soccer League conference. The conference consists of former members of the NASL, which combined with the United Soccer Leagues-Second Division to form a second-tier professional league to the MLS.
AC St. Louis fields plenty of talent. Goalkeeper Alec Duffy was a member of the New York Red Bulls of the MLS last year. The team also lost 2-1 to the Kansas City Wizards on April 3 in an exhibition match.
The team has struggled in its first season, but carries some momentum into Tuesday’s match. AC St. Louis picked up its first-ever road win last Saturday with a 1-0 triumph at the Puerto Rico Islanders. The team won its first-ever game on May 1, with a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace Baltimore.
Tuesday marks the eighth road game out of 11 matches for AC St. Louis. The team has also posted two shutouts in its last six games.
Claude Anelka is the first head coach in franchise history.
The Red Bull Wingers street-soccer team makes a special guest performance at the Open Cup first-round match.
Tuesday will mark the last home game before an 11-day absence, when the Menace returns on June 26 to host the Springfield (Mo.) Demize. That game will be the second Cleat Crew game of the season. Cleat Crew members get a ticket to three games (the first was May 22), a t-shirt, and a hot dog and drink at each of the games. Membership is only $5 for kids 13 and under. The final Cleat Crew game is the final regular-season match on July 24.
On June 26, the Menace will also host the Iowa High School All-Star games, starting at 3 p.m. at Valley Stadium.
The June 26 match will be presented by Kum and Go.