Time is running out for the Des Moines Menace, which has a long way to go to qualify for the Premier Development League playoffs.
Perhaps the toughest remaining challenge comes this Saturday against the Heartland Division’s top team: arch-rival Thunder Bay.
Saturday marks the second of five straight games at Valley Stadium to close the regular season. Kick-off is set for 7:30 p.m., with post-game fireworks to celebrate Independence Day.
“We have to win this one,” Menace head coach Laurie Calloway said. “We have to win in order to make the playoffs.”
With just three regular-season matches left, Des Moines (5-2-6, 21 points) sits in a second-place tie with Rochester (6-2-3) – one point above Real Colorado (5-2-5). If the first-place Chill (8-1-1, 25 points) continues its winning ways, only one of the division’s other contenders will make the playoffs. The top two teams from each of the PDL’s eight divisions advance to the postseason.
The Menace hopes that facing the Chill at home will yield better results than the last time these teams met.
Des Moines traveled to Thunder Bay, Ontario, for a weekend twin-bill on June 18 and 19, and returned with just one point. The Chill dealt the Menace one of its worst losses in franchise history – 7-2 in game one – to snap the team’s 19-match road unbeaten streak.
“Something wasn’t right that weekend; guys weren’t getting along. Ironically I think it was because of the World Cup,” Calloway said. “We talked about it, cleared the air and it carried through to the game on Saturday (June 19, when the Menace tied the Chill 1-1).”
These teams have a storied rivalry. They are the Heartland Division’s only two clubs that have claimed the PDL championship, with the Chill winning in 2008 and the Menace in 2005. The 2005 Menace had only three losses, two of which came against Thunder Bay. In 2008, the Chill lost only two games and tied once – all against the Menace.
This is the third straight year the Menace has hosted the Chill on Independence Day weekend. Thunder Bay won 1-0 on July 4 last year, handing the Menace its first loss in exactly one year. The Chill beat the Menace, 3-0, on July 4, 2008; Des Moines got a 5-1 payback win the next day, starting a year-long, 15-match unbeaten streak.
Des Moines is the final stop on a five-match road trip for Thunder Bay. The Chill has made a successful swing through Missouri, picking up a pair of one-goal wins at St. Louis last weekend and a 3-0 triumph at Springfield last night. The Canadians try to pick up three more points at Kansas City tonight.
RECAPPING SATURDAY: Kenan Malicevic scored two second-half goals in his home debut to lead the Menace to a 3-0 win over Springfield. After Des Moines went 0-1-6 to start the June schedule, it was the team’s first victory since May 29.
Clark Bradford notched his team-leading fifth goal in the 80th minute, nine minutes after an odd delay. The stadium lost electrical power at kickoff, and the referees nearly called the game due to darkness in the 71st minute. About ten minutes after play was stopped, power resumed and the game was finished.
Stephen Okai assisted on both of Malicevic’s goals. Sam Morris recorded his first assist of the season when he set up Bradford.
After a scoreless first half in which the Menace outshot Springfield 22-6, head coach Laurie Calloway nearly made lineup changes. He didn’t, and Malicevic scored on the team’s first possession in the second half.
Malicevic added another in the 61st minute, when Okai lofted a ball over the Demize defense. Malicevic ran down the ball, chipped it over the goalkeeper’s head, and celebrated as it rolled into the back of the net.
SCOUTING THUNDER BAY: This marks the 11th season the Menace and Chill have battled, and the series has developed into one of the PDL’s best rivalries. Des Moines leads the overall series 20-13-3.
Thunder Bay has easily been the most impressive team in the Heartland Division thus far. The team is in first place with 25 points after just nine games, and has outscored opponents 30-7.
Striker Brandon Swartzendruber leads the team with nine goals, including his June 18 hat trick against the Menace. His 21 points rank second in the PDL. Midfielder Nolan Intermoia has eight goals and his 19 points ranks third in the PDL.
The Chill is known for being one of the most physical teams in the league. Julius Abegar ranks second in the league with 24 fouls committed.
The last time these teams met at Valley Stadium was on July 4, 2009, and the Menace dropped a 1-0 decision. The teams played to a 1-1 draw earlier this season, a day after the 7-2 Chill victory.
Tony Colistro holds a 58-36-14career record in his sixth season as Thunder Bay head coach.
UPCOMING PROMOTIONS: The Menace will host a free pre-game picnic with hot dogs, chips, drinks and ice cream on Saturday. The picnic will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. After the game, there will be a fireworks display in celebration of Independence Day.
Menace cowbells will also be given to the first 300 fans. The game is presented Evian.
The Menace takes a break in PDL action next Saturday, when it hosts the St. Paul Twin Stars of the National Premier Soccer League. Des Moines hosts Kansas City and St. Louis on July 17 and 24, respectively, in its final two regular-season games.