WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Friday, July 28, 2011 –The Des Moines Menace is part of arguably one of the Premier Development League’s toughest conference championships in recent memory. All four Central Conference semifinalists – the Menace, the Chicago Fire Premier, the Michigan Bucks and the Thunder Bay Chill – are no strangers to the big stage.
Making its 11th playoff appearance, the Menace (12-4-0) takes on the Great Lakes Division champion Bucks (12-2-2) tonight at 8 o’clock EDT at Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac, Mich. In the other semifinal, Thunder Bay and Chicago battle at 5:30. Tonight’s winners advance to the conference’s title match on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EDT.
The organizations’ histories speak for themselves. Each of the previous six seasons PDL finals has included one of these four teams, with Des Moines crowned champion in 2005, Michigan in 2006 and Thunder Bay in 2008. Michigan was the 2007 runner-up; Chicago (2009) and Thunder Bay (2010) finished second each of the last two years.
The Menace has quite the task at hand, as the Bucks have taken the term “home-field advantage” to a whole new level this season. Michigan finished 8-0 on its home turf, where it outscored regular-season foes 24-0. Laurie Calloway’s crew is determined to be the first team to score against the Bucks on their pitch.
“I think it’s a great challenge for us,” said Menace captain John Sosa. “It’s going to be a great match and come out to whoever plays their hardest and has the best strategy. We’re both very good teams. It’s going to be a great game.”
Ben Taylor, the only carryover from the last Menace side (2009) to make the PDL Playoffs, feels the team will benefit from the surface at Ultimate Soccer Arenas – the largest indoor soccer facility in the world.
“The arena is a really nice facility. Having it be all turf and inside will play into our advantage because of the style that we play, keeping the ball on the floor and moving it around,” said Taylor.
Des Moines went 12-2-0 in regular-season matches on artificial surface. This includes a 7-1-0 mark at Valley Stadium.
The Menace plans to play to its strengths and feed off the players’ excitement the players from making it to the postseason.
“I think it’s the proof of hard work,” said Sosa. “We’ve worked our tails off this season and now it’s paying back. It feels good.”
WATCH THE ACTION, LIVE: You can watch the Central Conference semifinals and finals at USLlive.com. You can also follow in-game updates at Twitter.com/MenaceSoccer.
PLAYOFF FORMAT: The winners from each of the four conference finals (to be determined by no later than July 31) play in the PDL semifinals on Aug. 5, setting up the championship match on Aug. 6, Click here for the Menace Fans’ Guide to the Playoffs, which includes the bracket for the 20-team tournament.
RECAPPING LAST WEEKEND:On the playoff bubble entering the final weekend of the regular-season, the Menace got two necessary wins, and a little help from the division’s other contenders. Des Moines defeated Kansas City (5-1) and St. Louis (1-0), to edge Real Colorado – a team that closed the season with a 5-2 loss at Thunder Bay.
“The St. Louis win was a good win to work off of and build into the playoffs,” said Taylor. “Sure, we didn’t win 5-0 or 4-0, but we were tested in some areas and it’s good to have those close games every now and then.”
The Menace wins the tie-breaker for the Heartland Division’s second and final spot, having one more win than the Foxes (11-2-3). Thunder Bay (12-2-2) is the division’s champ for the third time in four years.
SCOUTING MICHIGAN: With a 12-2-2 record, the Michigan Bucks earned the Great Lakes Division crown by three points over Chicago Fire Premier (11-3-2). Michigan ended its 2011 regular season campaign on a four-game winning streak.
Tomas Catalano leads the team with 22 points, on 10 goals and two assists. Kenny Uzoigwe is second in points (18) for the Bucks, on seven goals and four assists. The 34-year-old Uzoigwe is the PDL’s all-time scoring king – a title previously held by Menace legend Tomas Boltnar, who starred from 2002-2008. Uzoigwe surpassed Boltnar’s career-record 76 goals, with a two-goal performance on May 28.
The Bucks rank first all-time in PDL wins (193-75-27 in 16 regular seasons), followed by the Menace (167-98-19 in 18 regular seasons). Michigan holds a 3-1 edge in four meetings, all in the postseason. Des Moines’ lone win was part of the team’s 2005 title run. The Bucks knocked the Menace out of the playoffs in 1997, 2002 and 2003. For an in-depth look at the Menace and Bucks PDL history, click here.
ABOUT THE MENACE: The Des Moines Menace competes in the 64-team United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League (PDL), the highest amateur level of soccer in North America. The Menace plays its home matches in a fun, family-friendly environment at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines. The organization promotes a healthy lifestyle through its popular youth programs, including the Menace Academy (select soccer for ages 9-19), camps, clinics and tournaments.
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