There’s no rest for the weary, as the Des Moines Menace is in Canada to take on the Thunder Bay Chill for its fourth and fifth games in a span of eight days.
The Premier Development League Heartland Division arch-rivals play Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EDT at Chapples Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
The Menace is looking to break a streak of four consecutive ties in PDL action, and it won’t be easy against the division’s hottest team. Because Thunder Bay cannot qualify for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, it has played only five games this season. The Chill (4-1-0, 12 points) has outscored opponents 16-3, and is breathing down the necks of the division’s leaders.
“We have a little bit of an idea who their best players are, and the guys back from last year are valuable in helping me identify their weaknesses,” Menace head coach Laurie Calloway said. “They lost to a team comparable to us (Rochester). Three points is a priority, but a point would be great.”
Working in Des Moines’ favor is the success the team has experienced on the road. The Menace is undefeated in 19 straight games away from Valley Stadium, going back to May 2008. The team has also played well on Canadian soil, returning with four points in the twin-bill road trip each of the last two seasons.
The Menace needs to bounce back quickly from an early exit in the U.S. Open Cup. Des Moines dropped a 1-0 decision to pro team AC St. Louis in the first round at Valley Stadium on Tuesday.
The Menace (4-1-4, 16 points) let first place slip away with a 1-1 tie at St. Louis on Sunday, a day after a third-straight draw against Real Colorado. Rochester (Minn.) defeated Springfield (Mo.) 3-0 on Sunday, leapfrogging the Menace and taking the division’s top spot. Des Moines trails the Thunder (5-2-2) by one point.
Des Moines has played a man down in three of its last four matches, due to red cards received by Menace players. However, Calloway said the team has done well in the face of adversity.
“(Red cards) don’t help, but we’ve been digging down and playing collectively with 10 men,” Calloway said. “We’re creating chances, but the biggest problem is the inability to put the ball in the net.”
Calloway’s side closes its road schedule in the coming week. After this weekend’s two-game set, the team travels to Rochester on June 24 in a crucial matchup against the Thunder. Rochester – the only team to defeat Des Moines this season – is idle until that game.
The Menace returns home to play Springfield (Mo.) on June 26 – the first of five straight Saturdays at Valley Stadium to wrap up the season.
RECAPPING TUESDAY: AC St. Louis’ Mike Ambersley slipped a goal past Menace goalkeeper Jason Williams in the 70th minute, edging Des Moines, 1-0, to advance to the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Ambersley’s goal came five minutes after Menace captain Clark Bradford received his second yellow card of the game for a hard foul, which resulted in a red card. The Menace still had its chances playing a man down, outshooting the professional squad 12-4 in the second half and 22-8 in the game.
Des Moines’ best chances came in the first half. Luis Piffer took a sliding shot that ricocheted off the crossbar and nearly broke the plane. In the 40th minute, Piffer sent a cross into the box that deflected off an AC St. Louis defender and bounced to Menace midfielder Jacob Schmoker. Schmoker’s left-footed blast was snagged by diving goalkeeper Alec Dufty.
AC St. Louis is a member of the United States Soccer Federation-Division 2 Professional League, which is one step below Major League Soccer.
SCOUTING THUNDER BAY: Thunder Bay continued its offensive onslaught to start the season with a two-game sweep of Springfield last weekend, when it outscored the Demize, 8-1.
The Chill is widely regarded as the Menace’s most-heated rival, as the teams have battled every year since 2000. Des Moines leads the all-time series 20-12-2. The Menace’s only win in the series last season came on the Chill’s home field.
Thunder Bay won the PDL championship in 2008, and Des Moines was the only team to defeat or tie the Chill that season. The Menace went 2-1-1 against Thunder Bay in 2008. The Chill has also qualified for the PDL playoffs for three consecutive seasons.
Brandon Swartzendruber is Thunder Bay’s leading goal scorer, with three goals in as many games played. Swartzendruber played for the Harrisburg City Islanders in the United Soccer Leagues Second Division last season. Brazilian Gustavo Oliviera is the team leader in points, with eight in only two games played.
These games mark the first two meetings for the teams this year. Thunder Bay visits Des Moines on July 3.
Tony Colistro is in his sixth season with the Chill. He holds a 54-36-13 overall record.
UPCOMING PROMOTIONS: The next Menace home game is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 26, when the team hosts the Springfield Demize. Kum & Go is the sponsor of a tripleheader that opens with the 2010 Iowa High-School All-Star Games, set for 3 p.m. (boys) and 5 p.m. (girls).
June 26 is also the second of three games for the 2010 Cleat Crew. Kids ages 4-13 can sign up for the club, whose benefits include admission to select games (including the July 24 regular-season finale), a t-shirt, food and drink vouchers and the chance to win prizes at each Cleat Crew game.