WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – The Des Moines Menace entered the 2010 Premier Development League season with a target on its back as the defending Heartland Division champion. The team brought back the only head coach in franchise history to lead the team to an undefeated season – Laurie Calloway.
Calloway led the Menace to a fast start, winning four of its first five and qualifying for its first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup since 2006.
Then the Menace hit a wall in June. The team entered the month atop the division standings, but tied Real Colorado three times in a span of eight days. Des Moines continued to struggle for a win and did not find one until defeating Springfield on June 26.
By that time Thunder Bay had a stranglehold on the division, and Rochester was in prime position to take the division’s second postseason bid. A crucial match on July 3 with the first-place Chill would all but determine the Menace’s playoff fate.
Des Moines dropped a 3-1 decision – the third straight year it lost to its Canadian rival on fireworks night. The Thunder took care of business down the stretch, and the Menace was eliminated from playoff contention.
The Menace played to a draw in its season finale last Saturday, when St. Louis notched a goal in the 90th minute to earn a tie. It was a franchise-record seventh tie of the season, which was tops in the 67-team PDL. Des Moines (6-3-7) finished fourth in the Heartland Division.
“This was one of the most frustrating teams I’ve ever coached,” Calloway said. “We let ourselves down occasionally. We didn’t put the ball in the back of the net and, considering the opportunities, it’s frustrating.”
The season was highlighted with a trip to the U.S. Open Cup. Des Moines went 3-1-0 in qualifying to secure the Heartland Division’s bid and hosted AC St. Louis of the United States Soccer Federation–Division 2 Professional League – which is one wrung below Major League Soccer – in the tournament’s first round.
Despite outshooting AC St. Louis 28-8, the Menace dropped a 1-0 decision to the visitors on June 15 and was ousted from the tournament. Calloway said it was quite possibly the most disappointing loss of the season for the players.
“We outplayed them, outshot them, then lose on a breakaway goal,” he said. “Even with an average league season, we could have had an Open Cup run.”
The loss was just another blow in a horrid month of June – one that included the second most-lopsided loss in franchise history. In a trip to Thunder Bay on June 18, the Chill welcomed the Menace with a 7-2 thrashing.
“The loss up there (in Thunder Bay) was a shocking result,” Calloway said. “We did OK after; the guys battled, we just didn’t have the personnel to turn the ties into wins.
As Calloway looks back on the season, he realizes how close the Menace was to being a playoff team. He said four matches this season – the stalemates versus Rochester, Thunder Bay and the two against St. Louis – were games which should have been won and could have changed the Heartland Division standings.
“We gave (those games) away after winning; those eight points could have taken us into the playoffs or first place,” Calloway said. “We didn’t beat any of the teams above us.”
Calloway hopes his presence year-round in the organization will make a tremendous difference next season. When he arrived in November 2009, he did not have the necessary resources and time to recruit the team he wanted to field. Now he has that chance.
One position in particular Calloway hopes to fill is a marquee striker. He believes the Menace was talented enough to compete with anyone in the league, but just did not have a finishing touch up front. He believes the Menace need a player like Brandon Swartzendruber of Thunder Bay and Mark Heath-Preston of Rochester, someone who could score double-digit goals in a season.
“Our 11 best on the field could have played with anyone,” Calloway said. “We were not the best at finishing. We didn’t have one of those guys (Swartzendruber or Heath-Preston).”
The player who was voted by his teammates as most likely to make it to the MLS was arguably the Menace’s most dynamic player. McDaniel tied for the team-lead in points (13) and goals (5). He also led the team in minutes (1344) and was one of two players to see action in every game. He scored the team’s first home goal of the season in a 2-1 win over St. Louis on May 22. McDaniel agreed with his coach’s assessment of the team’s frustration, but was open to returning to Des Moines for 2011.
“The season had its ups and downs, as far as results went,” McDaniel said. “We played well as a team, but didn’t get results. I had a lot of fun, and I’m looking to come back next summer if it’s what I want to do.”
The team’s captain was the unquestioned leader of the team. He directed the midfield and was second to only McDaniel in minutes (1237). Bradford was also the only other player to appear in each game and shared the team-lead in points and goals. He found the back of the net in three of the first five matches.
Moloto dazzled audiences with his dribbling ability and runs to the net. He was second on the team in points (12) and was the third Menace player to score five goals. He scored back-to-back game-winning goals against Kansas City and St. Louis on May 19 and 22, respectively. He was named to the PDL Team of the Week for his efforts.
“I learned a lot since I came here,” Moloto said. “It was not an easy year for the team but we had a good season. I would love to come back. It was just a good experience.”
The 16-year-old Nigerian was rock-solid in defense, displaying his athletic ability by out-leaping nearly everyone for headers. Lawal scored his only goal of the season in a 1-1 tie against Real Colorado on June 12. He was also notorious for trouble, tying for the team-lead in cards (5) and receiving a red card in the Open Cup loss against AC St. Louis.
The steady midfielder was a solid contributor all season, appearing in 15 games and notching seven points. Okai appeared to have scored the game-winning goal in the season finale against St. Louis last Saturday before the Lions rallied to record a draw. Okai ranked third on the team in minutes played (1142) and fouls (16).
“I really enjoyed my time in Des Moines,” Okai said. “I didn’t expect how enjoyable it would be.”
Menace qualify for Open Cup for first time since 2006: Despite falling behind to Rochester in qualifying, Moloto scored game-winning goals against Kansas City and St. Louis to lead Des Moines past the Thunder to earn the division’s bid to the Open Cup. The Menace bowed out in the first round, however, with the 1-0 defeat to AC St. Louis.
Malicevic double gives Menace first win in June: Kenan Malicevic became the first Menace player to record a multi-goal performance in 2010 in a 3-0 triumph over Springfield on June 26. The victory broke the Menace’s curse in a month where it went 0-6-1 in its previous seven PDL matches.
Menace blanks Brass, 6-0: Des Moines scored four times in the first half en route to crushing Kansas City. It was the team’s most lopsided PDL win since defeating Springfield, 7-0, in May 2008. Stephen Baker’s two-goal performance and Moloto’s goal and two assists provided the offensive boost for the Menace.
PDL Team of the Week: The Menace had two players named to the PDL Team of the Week in 2010. Moloto’s two game-winners earned him a spot on May 26, and Sam Morris was named to the squad on July 21 for his performance in the 6-0 victory over Kansas City. Morris scored the game's fourth goal in the 28th minute and was instrumental in defense, securing the team’s second shut-out of the season.
Calloway reunites with Gibson: Calloway was not the only member of the 2002 Menace to return to Des Moines. Former MLS player Neathan Gibson returned to the Menace as assistant coach, eight years after his season as a player-coach for the PDL's regular-season champs. Calloway and Gibson welcomed Kevin Schalk onto the PDL staff, and the three work together as coaches for the Menace Academy (select boys and girls teams from U11 to U18). Calloway is the Academy's Director of Soccer, Gibson is the Academy's Director of Coaching and Schalk is the DOC for the Grimes-based Menace West Academy, which started this spring.
Experience the world’s game: The Menace welcomed players from eight different countries this season, including seven which competed in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It was the most international players the team has fielded in franchise history. These include Lebogang Moloto from South Africa; Stephen Okai from Ghana; Jubril Lawal from Nigeria; Yuki Kariya from Japan; Stefan De Las from Trinidad and Tobago; Clark Bradford, Sam Morris and Jack Pearson from England; and Luis Piffer from Brazil. The rest of the Menace represents the United States.
Menace Camp continues to grow: Menace players shared their passion for the game with more than 350 children who participated in the Menace's eight soccer camps in central Iowa this summer. The largest Menace camps drew 81 participants in Polk City (first year) and 55 in Newton. The Menace players were also counselors for more than 100 participants in successful first-year clinics in Carroll and Cedar Rapids.
“I don’t think the players bought into the concept of everyone bringing it at us. They don’t think they’re Menace players – they think it’s just a stop off on a four-year (college) commitment,” Laurie Calloway said.
“That wasn’t the case when I was here before (in undefeated season in 2002). We had guys that committed to us for three months. If a player is not prepared to buy into the Menace program for a summer, then we don’t want him, no matter how talented they are.”
Menace intern Matt Moran, a junior at Drake University, wrote this story.