Welcome to our continuing series of Meet the USASA features where we annually profile the clubs representing the United States Adult Soccer Association in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Advancing from the four regional tournaments, these often unknown clubs have great stories to tell and each year, our goal is to allow fans to get to know them as they attempt to become this year’s Cinderella story. Click here for more Meet the USASA stories.
Perhaps this would be better called “Meet the PDL.”
Technically, the Iowa Menace will play the Chicago Fire Premier (PDL) on Tuesday night in the First Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
But make no mistake, this is the Des Moines Menace of the PDL.
“We’re in disguise for this game,” Menace coach Laurie Calloway joked.
The Menace have entered the Iowa Menace in the US Adult Soccer Association Region II tournament the past five years. Typically, the team consists of local junior college players, as most of the Menace’s PDL players usually are still in college when the Region II tournament starts in early May.
This year, though, the team had seven PDL-caliber players and routed KC Athletics 7-1 in its regional opener.
“It’s the strongest USASA side we’ve put out,” Calloway said.
In the unique format used for the Region II tournament, that one lopsided win was enough for the Menace to earn an Open Cup berth. The team with the best goal differential out of the three first-round matches earned one of the region’s two bids, while the other two winners played off for the other spot.
Calloway said the Menace weren’t aware of the format until reserve team coach Brandon Ermels read about it online during the trip to Kansas City.
“The bizarre thing was when we found out they showed up with 10 players, we were rubbing our hands and going ‘Wow, this is great,’ ” said Calloway, who added that he changed up his tactics when he learned about the goal-differential format.
“We had a plan, they played a very much bunker-down type of game and we couldn’t score. And then in the 35th minute, they got a goal to make it 1-0.”
Menace midfielder John Sosa helped set up all the goals as the Menace scored three times in the final three minutes of the first half, and Iowa went on to the convincing win. During their trip back to Des Moines, they learned their plus-6 goal differential was just enough to earn the Open Cup berth, thanks to an 83rd-minute goal scored by FC Indiana in its 7-2 loss to Chicago’s AAC Eagles.
With the USASA spot secured, Calloway and the Menace turned their attention to earning another Open Cup berth through PDL qualifying. The club would have had a second entry had Des Moines beaten the Kansas City Brass on May 23, but the Brass’ 2-1 win meant the Menace had to settle for one berth.
“The owners have always wanted to try to do well in the Open Cup,” said Calloway, an Englishman who has coached at every level of US soccer in a career that started in the late 1970s. “Even though at the end of the day if we got to the Semifinals (Aug. 30), we probably wouldn’t even be able to field a team because all the kids will have gone back to school.”
This is the Menace’s sixth appearance in the Open Cup and second in a row — they dropped a 1-0 decision in the first round to AC St. Louis of the USSF Division-2 Pro League, a team and league that no longer exist.
Their best runs came in 2005 and ’06, when they advanced to the Fourth Round before bowing out to Major League Soccer’s Kansas City Wizards.
“Obviously, if you can go and meet an MLS club in the last 16, it brings a tremendous amount of excitement, especially if you can draw them at home,” Calloway said.
The Menace will be at home for Tuesday’s match, and also would play host to a second-round game against the AAC Eagles or Madison 56ers in the second round should they advance.
After the challenging road trip they’ve just come back from, the Menace will be thrilled to be back at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines, Iowa.
Des Moines played four PDL matches in five days last week, the first two on consecutive nights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and then two more back-to-back games 438 miles away in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
That was followed by a 14-hour drive home.
“If you could think of a worse preparation (for the Open Cup match) … it’s probably hard to find something worse,” said Calloway, whose team will play at least seven consecutive home matches starting Tuesday.
The Menace won both games in Winnipeg and lost both in Thunder Bay to fall to 6-3-0 on the season. But five Des Moines players didn’t make the trip north of the border because of visa concerns, and four of them will be back in the mix Tuesday.
That includes three of the Menace’s top players: forward Deshorn Brown, midfielder Lebogang Moloto and right back Jubril Lawal.
Brown, a Jamaican who plays at NAIA powerhouse Mobile (Ala.), is Des Moines’ leading scorer with six goals in five games. Moloto, an 18-year-old South African who plays for Lindsey Wilson (Kent.), another NAIA powerhouse, has “lightning feet and lightning speed. He’s a winger, a tremendous creator of opportunities, a scorer and creator,” according to Calloway. Lawal is a 17-year-old from Nigeria who showcases his speed with overlapping runs into the attack.
“They’ve got tremendous futures if they stay on the right path,” said Calloway, whose team is second place in the Heartland Division of the Central Conference.
“We’ll be hopefully a totally different looking team on Tuesday night.”
Sosa has continued the good form he started in the Region II tournament, leading the team with seven assists in PDL play. The former Missouri-Kansas City player teams with his longtime teammate Bryan Perez in the midfield to make things go for the Menace.
“Probably our most influential player so far this season has been John Sosa. He’s our playmaker, No. 10, extremely creative,” Calloway said.
“(He and Perez) played together at UMKC. It’s almost like they’re Siamese twins, they’re joined at the hip, they know each other’s moves. They sort of orchestrate things together. It’s a nice combination.”
While there aren’t two Menace teams playing in the Open Cup on Tuesday night, there will be two sides playing on June 18.
The PDL team is playing host to the Kansas City Brass, while the USASA team plays AAC Eagles in the Region II final in Overland Park, Kan. The winner of the regional tournament advances to nationals July 15 to 17 in Bowling Green, Kent. — the Menace don’t have any PDL matches that weekend.
“We’re going to be like Barcelona: We’re going to try to win five trophies,” Calloway said with a laugh.