The Menace celebrated the division title on July 12 -- three days before clinching the conference championship and one week before securing the league's regular-season crown.
Regular-season titles and individual accolades made the Des Moines Menace’s 2014 season one to remember. Finishing just one game shy of the Premier Development League’s championship weekend, the Menace had much to celebrate during this magical summer.
For the first time in 12 years, Des Moines earned the PDL’s regular-season title. On the wings of the franchise’s third-longest unbeaten streak (10 games), the Menace sailed to a 12-1-1 record and 37 points. The point total was enough to beat out the likes of reigning PDL playoff champion Austin and Eastern Conference champion Seacoast United, as both finished with 11-1-2 records and 35 points.
“In the success of the regular season and then maybe not getting as far as we would’ve liked in the playoffs, hopefully, it gives us a little incentive for next year, to continue and fight and something to focus on,” said Menace head coach Mike Jeffries. “Like this year, we take it one game at a time, and just try and push things along.”
Jeffries was named the PDL Coach of the Year, following a season that ended with twice as many wins as the previous year. In his first season on the Menace sideline, the Major League Soccer head coach guided his team to a 6-6-2 mark.
Menace players Chris Hellmann and Ralphie Lundy were named to the PDL All-Central Conference Team. Hellmann also was named to the All-PDL squad and was one of three finalists for PDL Most Valuable Player.
From June 12 to July 24, seven Menace players received league honors. Hellmann was named the league’s Player of the Week on July 3. Brandon Fricke and Grant Bell earned Team of the Week honors on June 12 and July 24, respectively. Javi Lopez, Nico Wright, Sean Dong, Michael Semenza and Hellmann received honorable mentions during the seven-week stretch.
Before the regular-season closed, the Menace learned it would host the PDL Central Conference playoff weekend. The playoffs were coming back to Des Moines for the first time since the 2009 season, and the Menace had built quite a bit of momentum going into the single-elimination rounds.
The announcement was made on July 16: Des Moines would battle K-W United FC, of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. Can., in the Central Conference semifinals on July 25 at Valley Stadium. K-W United was the runner-up in the Great Lakes Division of the Central Conference. This was K-W’s first playoff appearance in the four-year history of the franchise.
“We set small goals at the beginning of the year: win the division, the conference and then the regular season,” Jeffries said.
Just eight days before clinching the regular-season title, Des Moines wrapped up the PDL Heartland Division title with a come-from-behind, 1-1 draw against St. Louis at Valley Stadium on July 12. The division championship began a run of title-clinching games. Three days after nabbing the Heartland Division, the Menace used a 1-0 win in Springfield, Mo., to claim the Central Conference.
Entering the season’s final weekend, the Menace knew a pair of wins would cement the league title. The mission was accomplished with a pair of wins over WSA Winnipeg, in front of the largest home crowds of the season.
“The guys this year were dedicated to competing,” Jeffries said. “I think we gained confidence from not only a few wins, but a few shutouts, and a few dominating performances.”
The Menace opened up 2014 on a tear, 3-0-0, including a 7-0 aggregate score line in the three games. The perfect start came to a quick close, as the Thunder Bay kept its winning streak alive five years to the day since the Chill’s last home loss to the Menace. Des Moines had not won in Thunder Bay, Ont. Can., since June 13, 2009. The Menace flipped the script on the June 14, winning 3-2 to begin a 10-game unbeaten streak.
“The big turnaround game for us was after the loss to Thunder Bay,” said Jeffries. “To come back the next day, and push the game and get ahead a couple goals and then hang on for a result, I thought it was huge. Not only could we play with those guys, but we could win.”
The season closed with eight of the last 10 games of the regular season against Canadian teams. Des Moines took all four from WSA Winnipeg by and aggregate score of 12-0. On July 5, the team earned its first playoff berth since 2011 with a 2-0 win in Winnipeg.
Des Moines also completed its first home sweep of Thunder Bay since 2006, as Hellmann and Dong combined for the three goals in a 1-0 and 2-1 win on June 28 and 29, respectively.
Hellmann tallied 22 of his team-leading 25 points (eight goals and six assists) against the northern foes. His seven assists tied him for the league lead.
The July 25 semifinal created plenty of drama, as the game turned to a tale of two halves by both teams. K-W held the Menace to relatively little possession in the first half, and fired off seven shots. The Menace got to halftime scoreless and came out ready to flip the script in the second half.
The Menace let loose on K-W, looking to settle the contest in regulation. The teams ended regular time all square, and needed extra time to find a difference. Unfortunately, neither team found a break-through, and a shootout ensued.
Des Moines goalkeeper Paul Blanchette came up with two huge saves on K-W’s third and fourth shooters to bring the Menace back into the game.. Brandon Fricke powered home the fifth and final kick from the mark to send the Menace to the Central Conference Championship.
Tired legs took over on the next night, as Michigan’s David Goldsmith stung the Menace in the 14th and 23rd minutes. His two goals were the difference, as the Bucks took the Central Conference championship and the next weekend celebrated the PDL title on their home turf. In the championship, the Bucks downed the Kitsap Pumas, 1-0, on Aug. 3.
“We put a lot of energy into a very good game with K-W United. That really was maybe the best, but for sure the hardest game that we played this year,” Jeffries said. “In the way that the playoffs are set up, we have to come back the next day. For us, it was just difficult. So, the only disappointment is that we didn’t put our best foot forward in the Michigan game, in part because of fatigue, and because we weren’t able to push the game like we would have liked, but you have to give Michigan credit.”
CLEAN SHEETS GALORE
Goalkeepers Paul Blanchette, David Meves and Erich Marscheider combined to post a franchise-record 10 shutouts in the regular season. Meves, a former MLS draft pick, kept four shutouts in the opening seven games before signing a pro contract with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. Blanchette took over the regular goalkeeping duties, tallying five clean sheets – the most by a single goalkeeper since Sean Molony in 2009 – while Marscheider posted the last in his only game. The previous franchise record was seven shutouts, held by the 2001 and 2002 squads (in 18 games).
The Menace had two all-conference selections for the first time since Tomas Boltnar and Danilo Oliveira were selected for the 2006 season. Ralphy Lundy and Chris Hellmann were chosen for the All-Central Conference team. Hellmann added to the postseason honors as a member of the All-PDL Team.
Congratulations to these recipients:
- MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, presented by Mama Lacona’s Italian Restaurant – Chris Hellmann
- GOLDEN BOOT, presented by Soccer Master – Chris Hellmann
- DEFENDER OF THE YEAR, presented by Holmes Murphy – Brandon Fricke
- COACHES’ AWARD, presented by Kum & Go – John Lujano and Ralphie Lundy
- COMMUNITY-SERVICE AWARD, presented by the Menace Soccer Foundation – Grant Bell
ONE HECK OF A SEASON FOR HELLMANN
Chris Hellmann scored nine goals and added seven assists (tied for the PDL lead) for 25 points. His point total was the most by any Menace player since Tomas Boltnar put up identical numbers in 2007. Eight goals and six assists were tallied against Canadian opponents – 11 points against both Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. One other highlight for Hellmann in the summer of 2014: seeing his native Germany hoist the FIFA World Cup on July 13 (winning 1-0 over Argentina).
Valley Stadium was protected hard and often this season. The Menace shut down opponents when playing on the home turf. The team posted a record of 6-0-1, while allowing just two goals – tied with the Michigan Bucks and FC Tucson for the league lead. This brought a marked improvement from 2013, when the Menace was 2-4-1 at home.
DONG-HELLMANN TRIPLE COMBO
In the two home games against the Thunder Bay Chill, Sean Dong set up Chris Hellmann on each of the three goals from the June 28-29 weekend. The last time two Menace teammates combined on consecutive goals was in 2012, when Lebogang Moloto set up hat-trick hero Husref Jupic on back-to-back goals on May 12 against the St. Louis Lions.
A 5-0 win against WSA Winnipeg on July 18 was the Menace’s most lopsided win since a 6-0 result on July 17, 2010 against Kansas City. A.J. Jeffries, Grant Bell, Jonny Macadam and Michael Semenza tallied their first PDL goals, and Chris Hellmann scored his ninth and final goal of the season. In a fitting prelude to that night’s postgame fireworks, three of the scores came in the final 10 minutes.
After 120 scoreless minutes of the Central Conference semifinal on July 25, the Menace beat K-W United FC in a thrilling shootout. Brandon Fricke smashed home the final spot kick to move Des Moines on to the Central Conference Championship match at Valley Stadium. The Menace captain was met by teammates and fans on the field, as a celebration ensued following the Menace’s first postseason win in exactly five years (July 25, 2009 – 2-1 over Real Colorado).
LEST WE FORGET THE U.S. OPEN CUP
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup pitted familiar foes looking for revenge. The Menace qualified through the United States Adult Soccer Association after missing out on one of the PDL spots. Des Moines opened its ninth appearance (and fifth straight) in the Open Cup with former Heartland Division rival Real Colorado, a team that kept the Menace out of the playoffs in the previous two years. With a 3-0 romping on May 14, the Menace moved on to the third round against Minnesota United FC, the team Des Moines knocked off to face Sporting Kansas City in 2013. United won, 1-0, on May 28, turning the tables on the Menace. On June 18, the defending MLS Cup champ beat Minnesota, 2-0 – an identical scoreline from SKC’s 2013 win over the Menace.
KUM & GO KUP
Before the season, the Menace and the Springfield Demize created a new rivalry trophy, appropriately named the Kum & Go Kup. Due to Kum & Go’s growth and success in Des Moines and Springfield – the largest markets for the convenience-store leader. The Menace won all three meetings by an aggregate score of 7-0, including a 4-0 win on June 21 at Valley Stadium that clinched the title.
SO CLOSE TO 200 WINS
A milestone will come with the Menace’s next regular-season win. The franchise enters its 22nd PDL season with an all-time mark of 199-113-32. This does not include the Menace’s berths in PDL playoffs (14-13) or the U.S. Open Cup (11-9).
Thank you, fans, for cheering on the 2014 PDL regular-season champion Des Moines Menace. See you next year, as we celebrate the franchise’s 200th win and aim for more championships!
2014 Final Results (12-1-1 PDL regular season)
Saturday, May 10 # Imperio W, 3-0
Wednesday, May 14 ^ Real Colorado Foxes W, 3-0
Saturday, May 17 at Springfield Demize W, 2-0
Sunday, May 25 at St. Louis Lions W, 2-0
Wednesday, May 28 ^ MN United FC (NASL) L, 0-1
Saturday, May 31 # MN United FC Reserves W, 1-0
Saturday, June 7 Chicago Inferno W, 3-0
Friday, June 13 at Thunder Bay Chill L, 1-3
Saturday, June 14 at Thunder Bay Chill W, 3-2
Saturday, June 21 Springfield Demize W, 4-0
Saturday, June 28 Thunder Bay Chill W, 1-0
Sunday, June 29 Thunder Bay Chill W, 2-1
Saturday, July 5 at WSA Winnipeg W, 2-0
Sunday, July 6 at WSA Winnipeg W, 3-0
Saturday, July 12 St. Louis Lions T, 1-1
Tuesday, July 15 at Springfield Demize W, 1-0
Friday, July 18 WSA Winnipeg W, 5-0
Saturday, July 19 WSA Winnipeg W, 2-0
Friday, July 25 ! K-W United FC W, 0(4)-0(3)
Saturday, July 26 ! Michigan Bucks L, 0-2
All game times are central
! = PDL Playoffs | ^ = Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup | # = Exhibition
This story was written by Menace intern Matthew DeWitt.