Photo credit: Art Schramm Photography
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Saturday, July 12, 2014 – The Des Moines Menace accomplished what it needed, but not what it wanted.
Rallying for a 1-1 draw with the St. Louis Lions tonight, the Menace clinched the Premier Development League’s Heartland Division title.
Needing just one standings point to seal the championship, the Menace got just that. Goal-scorer Rich Ballard and goalkeeper Paul Blanchette emerged as tonight’s heroes at Valley Stadium.
In the running for the PDL’s regular-season title with three games left, the 9-1-1 Menace has clinched the franchise’s third division crown – its first in five years.
Des Moines brings a sense of unfinished business into a busy last week of the season – Tuesday at Springfield and a Friday-Saturday home doubleheader against WSA Winnipeg.
“It’s a pretty huge accomplishment,” Ballard said of the division title. “We don’t stop here, though. We know we can win it all. We click so well off the field, it brings high spirits into our games. We’re all pushing each other; we’re all in it together.”
Blanchette preserved the draw with a pair of superhuman saves in the 76th minute. After making a miraculous, acrobatic stop of a curling shot going into the upper-corner of the far post, the goalkeeper scrambled back to paw away an effort on the goal line, after a lurking Lion thought he had the easy rebound volley.
“It’s definitely amazing, to be part of a division championship,” Blanchette said, quickly adding, “It’s mixed emotions, though. My mistake at the beginning cost us, and put is in that position. It’s a game we should have won.”
The Lions drew first blood in the 13th minute, pouncing on a miscue by the Menace’s normally reliable backline. Jordan Roberts collected a misplayed clearance, found some space and curled a 25-yard shot out of Blanchette’s reach. Entering tonight, the Menace had allowed just one goal at home, and the team had a 14-1 scoring advantage in the first half.
Ballard leveled the game with a strike to the left post. After receiving an endline cross from scoring leader Chris Hellmann, Ballard controlled the ball eight yards from the goal. With a touch on the outside of his left foot, he struck the ball cleanly into the net for his first Menace goal.
“Pretty happy, but wish we could’ve come back for the win,” said Ballard. “At least we tied it up.”
The title-sealing result keeps alive the Menace’s seven-match unbeaten streak. Head coach Mike Jeffries’ team is one win from sealing the Central Conference crown. The Menace learns this week if the team will be hosting the opening weekend of the PDL Playoffs, July 25-26.
St. Louis, meanwhile, is still in the running for the division’s second and final playoff spot. The Lions (4-3-4) need at least a couple wins and one tie in their final three games.
MAN of the MATCH: Rich Ballard, whose first Menace goal was enough to clinch the division title. Ballard is a native of Louisville, Ky., who plays collegiately for Indiana.
UP NEXT: The Menace closes its regular season with three matches in the span of five days. The team plays at Springfield (Mo.) on Tuesday, and hosts WSA Winnipeg for a Friday-Saturday doubleheader at Valley Stadium. Friday is Fireworks Night and Saturday is Fan Appreciation Night.
Match: St. Louis Lions at Des Moines Menace
Date: Saturday, July 12, 2014
Competition: Premier Development League regular season
Venue: Valley Stadium (turf) in West Des Moines, Iowa
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. CDT
Weather: 80s, sunny
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
MENACE 0 1 1
StL 1 0 1
MENACE – Richard Ballard (Chris Hellmann) 68:00
StL – Jordan Roberts 13:00
Misconduct Summary: MENACE cautions - Javi Lopez 67:00; StLcautions - Jake Bond 16:00; Charles Edemba 28:00; Jake Cawsey 72:00
ABOUT THE MENACE: The Des Moines Menace provides the highest level of soccer in Iowa. In its 21st season, the Menace men’s side competes in the 64-team United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League (PDL). The Menace’s women’s team played in the 2013 Women’s Premier Soccer League playoffs, after debuting as the Women’s League Soccer 2012 champions. The Menace teams play their 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, Junior Menace and tournaments.
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