Soccer….Family Style


Why the Des Moines Menace Represent Everything That is Right with Soccer in America.

Last night, when I read Chris Cuellar‘s Des Moines Register article about today’s Menace vs Sporting KC Open Cup match, I was pretty clear in my feelings that it did not reflect the magnitude of the day, nor a proper “so you’re saying we have a chance” feeling. Sure, he’s a journalist, but we could sound a tiny bit more excited at the possibility of a win for the Menace tonight, because however unlikely, it is a wonderful possibility. I wrote my thoughts about the game here on my blog, and left a comment on the Register’s website and left it at that. But then you wonderful people started sending me other things people wrote about our Menace, and one piece I must share here, because it’s wonderful, and what I wish I’d written about our guys. So thank you, Jason Lemire, Freelance Soccer Writer (310.867.0977  ~   lemire.jason at yahoo dot com), you can guest blog for me any time:

Why the Des Moines Menace represent everything that is right with soccer in America.

Everyone expects Sporting KC to wipe the floor with them tonight.  Even Adrian Healy, in his heart of hearts, must know.  Surely he must.  This team of amateurs.  This team of school boys.  This team of hopefuls and maybes and never will bes.

Tonight, in their US Open Cup game against Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer, the Des Moines Menace of the PDL, collectively, haven’t got a chance in hell.

But… what if they did? What if the impossible happened? What if they won?

What would it mean?

The pessimists would decry the result as proof that MLS is not progressing, that soccer in this country will never reach the lofty heights to which it aspires.  They would probably publish an article about it on Grantland.  And they would be wrong.  Dead, stinkin’ wrong.  Ten years ago, maybe.  Ten years ago, when Major League Soccer was hanging on by the thread of Phil Anschutz’s argyles.  But today?  Tonight?  A victory for the Des Moines Menace would not signal the futility of soccer in this country.  Quite the contrary.  A victory by the Des Moines Menace tonight would signify something beautiful.  Something incredible.  Something profound.  But to grasp the profundity, we must first consider this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Des_Moines_Menace

Like most team pages, the first section in the contents bar is club’s history.  Not a big deal.  Only, in the case of the Des Moines Menace’s Wikipedia page, their history entry is 2,779 words long.  That’s just the entry on the team’s history!  Not only does that crush SKC’s page, it crushes the pages of most EPL teams.

Of course, anyone can edit a Wikipedia page.  Are we really to take draw conclusions from website that allows, among other things, this?

In a word.  Yes.  Because the Des Moines Menace’s Wikipedia page is a clear indication that there are people out there who really, really, care about this team, and as any support of soccer in the US will tell you, the dreaded specter that stalks our beloved sport in the night is not losing or disappointment, it’s apathy.

So the Menace have a ridiculous Wikipedia page.  So what.  So this.Kyle_Krause_(2011)His name is Kyle Krause, and his chin will eat you for friggin’ breakfast.

He is, among many other things, the CEO of Kum & Go convenience stores.  He is a wealthy man.  He is also the majority owner of the Des Moines Menace.  Has been since 1998.  Why?  It’s sure as hell not for the money.  No, Kyle Krause is one of longest standing owners in North American soccer because he loves the game, and he loves what the team means to his community.  I don’t have a direct quote from him, but I also suspect that he loves the fact that his team has led the PDL in average attendance for eight of the past ten years.  (Averaging 3,800 fans per game, in the middle of football country, is flat out impressive.)

So the team has a dedicated owner with a good chin.  A really good chin.  And the team has good fan support.  So what?  So this.

mike jeffriesIt’s an oil painting of Mike Jeffries.  At least I think it’s oils.  It could be acrylic.  The point is, where’s your painting of you?  Oh, that’s right, you don’t have one. Because you’re not Mike Jeffries!  (Mr. Krause, if you are reading this, I’m sure you have an oil painting of yourself too.  Please excuse the above sentence aimed at lesser readers.)  This swarthy, painted gentleman was not only a Herman Trophy winner, not only the head coach of the Dallas Burn, not only a scout for Bob Bradley’s 2010 World Cup Team, not only a trophy-winning MLS assistant coach and double major in Electrical Engineering and Public Policy… he is the head coach of the Des Moines Menace.  And he is the coach of the Des Moines Menace because he loves developing young players; and I don’t have a direct quote from him either but suspect he also relishes the opportunity to be a head coach again for an organization that truly appreciates his dedication to his craft.  The fact that Mike Jeffries, with his resume, is coaching in the PDL, is a sign of just how far our sport has progressed since the good folks in Manhattan thought it wise to name a pro soccer team after an uncomfortable physical condition (and I’m not talking about the Wiz).

So the Menace have a head coach steeped in American soccer history with connections all over MLS and a passion for developing young players.  So what?  So this.

DesMoines-Homonoff1105His name is Matt Homonoff and you’ve never heard of him.  You’ve never heard of him because his resume reads more or less like this:

2003 – 2005  DC United Ticket Sales Representative

2006 – 2010  DC United Corporate Partnerships

2011 – 2012  FC Edmonton Dir. of Sales

2012 – Present  Des Moines Menace General Manager

You’ve never heard of Matt Homonoff, but chances are you have never savored your team winning the way Matt savored the Menace’s Open Cup victory over Minnesota’s NASL team last week.  You’ve never savored a victory like he did because chances are you’ve never put in an 80-hour work week, or a 2,500-hour work year, for “your” team.  Chances are soccer is a game you love, but it doesn’t put food on your table.  But for guys like Matt, guys (and plenty of women too) who are in the trenches of selling tickets and booking sponsorships and securing venues and managing the hundreds upon hundreds of small and mighty details that go into making soccer a reality in this country, there is no off season.  Soccer is a game that is lived, day in and day out.  And all of this bears mentioning because contrary to what some might believe, there is an army of people like Matt out there doing everything they can to grow our game, and the fact that a team in the fourth division of soccer in this country has a GM with the chops of Matt Homonoff says an awful lot about how far our sport has come.  That’s right.  Matt has serious chops.  He’s also eaten a few chops in his day.  Lamb chops.  That’s okay.  It’s not his job to be svelte.  He’s a GM.

The Menace are a fourth division team with a passionate GM.  So what?  So this!

frickeMy God, he looks like he’s 12 years old.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is Brandon Fricke.  He grew up in a little place called Grimes, Iowa, which is, according to my sources, the single most Midwestern place in the entire universe.  Young Brandon just wrapped up his sophomore year as a defender for Butler University and now plays his summer ball for little club called the Des Moines Menace.  It was his goal, in the 86th minute, against the NASL’s Minnesota United FC, that propelled the Menace into their game against Sporting Kansas City.  He is also the former captain of the Iowa ODP team.  Isn’t that special.  Local boy does good for his local PDL team, setting the stage for the impossible task of playing against the team who developed him in the first place!  That’s right.  Brandon Fricke is actually a former member of the Sporting KC Academy program.  This is poetry, people!  Poetry!!!  Perhaps, in the near future, once Brandon has earned his degree in, we can only assume, dimples, he will pursue a professional career in soccer.  But until that day comes, he is a member of an amateur PDL squad going against the big, bad Sportings from Major League Soccer, trying to show his old team that he still has the talent and drive that caught their eye so many, misty years ago, and with all that being said you can’t tell me you’re not rooting for the kid, or his team.  And the truth is, every player on the Menace has a backstory that is just as compelling.

So let’s review.  A dedicated owner in it for the love of the game.  The most dedicated fanbase in all of amateur soccer.  A head coach returning to his player development roots.  A GM who represents every unsung hero of US soccer’s ascent over the past 20 years.  A roster full of redemption stories and half realized dreams, all clawing and scratching their way towards the light of a pro contract. 

 

No.  The Des Moines Menace do not stand a chance against Sporting Kansas City.  Not under the lights of Sporting’s $200 million dollar stadium.  Not under the withering glare of the amateur/professional divide.

But if they did?  If they somehow, somehow did.  What if Kamara hits the woodwork three times in the first half but can’t finish; then, Kansas City native and former MLS League Pool GK Scott Angevine has the game of his life and keeps the Menace in it until the 65th minute when SKC’s Besler-less backline botches an offsides trap, putting Des Moines’s Jimmy Tulloch in one-on-one against Jimmy Neilsen who has momentarily lost focus pondering the wisdom of releasing his autobiography midseason; Tulloch scores, tells the SKC fans to quiet down, and the Menace go on to hold their improbable lead for the next 29 minutes in a flurry of defensive heroics that include Fricke’s dimples and Krause’s chin making three goal line clearances in stoppage time.

However it happens, if the Des Moines Menace of the PDL win tonight against Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer, it will not be a sign that the sky is falling on our beloved game.

No.  It will be a sign that the Soccer Gods, the same Gods that have steered the fates of so many other underdog clubs around the world, in tournaments just like this, have finally seen fit to visit our shores.

If the Menace win tonight, the victory will be etched in the minds of soccer fans for years to come.  In the little town of Grimes, and the not so little city of Des Moines, it is a story that will be told for decades.

If the Menace win tonight it will be a sign that our beloved game has finally begun to develop more than just players… we have begun to develop legends.



Road Trip: the Des Moines Menace Head to Sporting KC in Open Cup 3rd Round
May 28, 2013, 1:38 am
Filed under: Major League Soccer, Supporter Culture | Tags: , ,

What a week! We had a great trip to watch the Menace win in Minneapolis, and now here it is, game day in Kansas City for the 3rd round. I’m pretty amped up for this thing, and the Des Moines Register’s article left me wanting more, so here it is, the story I want told about the Des Moines Menace.

This week has been a roller coaster, with Adrian Healey tweeting and talking about our Menace, getting our 15 seconds of fame on Big Head and the Red Head (at minute 33) at the high points, and Taylor Twellman’s snarky, disbelieving tone every time he says “Des Moines Menace” at the low, but even then…he was snarky about us on an MLS broadcast! It’s been a great week to be a Menace fan.

Now we have 2 full buses of people committed to go down to Kansas City in a few hours, to see if we can put the brakes on Sporting’s plans to keep the Open Cup trophy. Our PDL David to their MLS Goliath. My first chance to see Sporting Park NOT from the Members Stand.

I know we’re a long shot, but there’s a reason we play the games. It’s like my husband was saying tonight, the difference between success and failure in professional sports is tiny thin line, let’s call it 2% more mental focus. All high level players have the physical prowess to win matches. It all comes down to the focus, mental clarity, and speed of thought to make it happen on that particular day. Do you have the clarity that allows you to see that strike, and have your laces hit it just perfectly at the moment when everything is on the line? Who will have their Lafester Rhodes day tomorrow, and light it up like we’ve never seen?

On any given day, any one player can make or break it for the whole match. When we played in Minneapolis last week, the Menace dominated the first half, and looked like a sure thing. In the second half, I was positive that Minnesota United would win, they were beating us to the ball, out shooting, out possessing….but like in so many soccer games, it came down to one Menace player timing his jump better than his defender, and Menace keeper Scott Avengine not allowing anyone to make it back. That’s all it takes to win in Open Cup or any other game.

The Menace is in their 20th year, and I have watched them all 20 years. This season feels like something special. We have a new GM, Matt Homonoff, fresh off the NASL circuit, and every time I talk to him, I get more excited about soccer in Des Moines. We have Mike Jeffries, (not the evil one…google Mike Jeffries soccer) a former USMNT player and former MLS coach. I like our player roster…I mean, I barely know them, but these guys played really well together in Minnesota, and they’d hardly met each other yet. I’m excited to see how they look against an MLS side after another week playing together.

They say the third time’s the charm, and this is the 3rd appearance for the Menace against a Kansas City MLS team (let’s all be thankful that the Wiz years are over). So, Sporting KC, I’ll see your #CupStaysHere hashtag, and raise you a #ThirdXCharm for my beloved Menace Soccer. Go get em, boys!



Good Times at the US Open Cup
May 21, 2013, 10:51 pm
Filed under: Family Fun, Supporter Culture | Tags: , , , ,

image

It’s just before midnight on our way home from the Des Moines Menace win at the US Open Cup game in Minnesota, basking in the late night glow of our road win. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make this trip. I missed the Menace home opener to a migraine, and yesterday, my day started with a 6 AM wakeup to 5 year old screaming in ear infection pain. Having already been though tubes with him, I sure as heck wasn’t going to OK a roadie to stand in the rain and get home at 1 AM not even 24 hours into antibiotics. But then…talking to my mother in law about the game, his illness, my general aggravation that my darling husband had just assumed he could take my car on this trip….she said, “Just bring him over here, we’ll watch him so you can go.” Dumbfounded, I said “No, really, I just wanted to vent, I’m OK with staying home with him.” To which, my amazing mother in law replied, “I know you really like going to these games, it’s OK, bring him.” Oh glorious, happy day of marrying so well, even your extended family is awesome.

So five minutes prior to departure, I got added to the travel roster, while I was still thinking about NYCFC and writing my book, so even know, I barely know how to react to this day. So I’m coping out, and listing what’s awesome about today:

1. My mother in law: Thank you Caryl, for making my supporter life meets mama world a tiny bit easier.
2. Lower League, part 1: One of my MLS friends posted on FB today that he was doing X while his MLS team was playing in Open Cup because “I’ll care about Open Cup when you do, [MLS Team Name].” That’s just lame. Every team should care about Open Cup….except you, Sporting…don’t you worry about our little PDL club.

3. Lower League, part 2: I used to wish that I could magically live in Des Moines AND have it be and MLS city. And I’ve had soccer-loving friends say they could never live in a city that’s lower league. But you know what? Lower league is awesome. We can walk up to our players after every game. Our owner and GM are accessible, and love the game in a way I don’t often see in the MLS. I especially loved watching our new GM Matt Homonoff at the game tonight, panic stricken look on his face, praying along with us for a Menace goal. I liked our previous GM, but I’m kinda crazy about this new guy.

4. The supporters: When my MIL offered to watch my sick kiddo, and I had to choose to go or no go, it wasn’t just the team I was excited to see. I wanted to go hang out with Minnesota United’s Dark Clouds Supporters Group. A few I’d met through crossover with Minnesota 1st Volunteers, the local USMNT supporters group, and others I met when we hosted the Open Cup last year and they road tripped to see us. It’s nice that outside of “those 90 minutes,” we’re all friends.

2012 Open Cup game brought Minnesota's Dark Clouds to Des Moines

2012 Open Cup game brought Minnesota’s Dark Clouds to Des Moines

That’s it. I’m completely excited about going to KC next week. Totally exhausted, but home safe. On to round 3!



Trash Talk in Des Moines (Iowa, Not Idaho) Re: Menace Soccer, NASL, USL-1
March 2, 2013, 2:03 pm
Filed under: Supporter Culture, Uncategorized, US Soccer | Tags: , , , , ,

2012-07-14_19-49-02_712Last Wednesday, Andrew McGreen posted a link titled “Donovan Talks, U-20s, and Brek Shea” and 57:07 on the American Outlaws: Des Moines facebook group. I have much time for soccer podcasts, but I do like the Best Soccer Show, and I had three minutes, so….

The clip from 57:07 starts out with someone who’s written in to ask why hasn’t Des Moines been considered for NASL or USL-1 expansion? My heart just about burst. Eleven years ago, I worked for the Stadium Foundation as the Event Coordinator. We were working to build what, at the time, would have been the 4th soccer-specific stadium in the US, which would have allowed Menace Soccer to move from the PDL to what was then the A-League, and is now USL-Pro. It was a great plan, that would have given Des Moines the soccer street cred it deserved. At the time, we were (and still are) out-drawing teams in higher leagues, we had the highest participation per-capita in US youth soccer, and we have a sports fan base that supports semi-pro level sporting events well. It killed me when the Urbandale City Council voted down the proposal to build the stadium in their land-locked suburb. I thought it was incredibly short-sighted, and a decade later, I could write an entire post about why it was the wrong decision for Urbandale and central Iowa soccer. Suffice it to say that I have always believed that Des Moines is a “diamond in the rough, with a beyond competent front office”, and belongs in a higher league than PDL.

While I recovered from my mind-explosion that someone read my mind and then wrote to Best Soccer Show about it, I was hurtled back down to Earth by Jared and Jason’s response. Here’s a clue: when someone says “No offense to Des Moines” it’s probably really offensive to Des Moines. I had to roll my eyes at “the thing about Des Moines is that it’s Des Moines.” Oh guys….really? Maybe 20 years ago, when I moved here from the New York metro, Des Moines would have skulked off, apologizing for how uncool it is. Not anymore. Now we’re consistently ranked not just best place to raise your kids, but best place to start a business, be a young professional, and the list goes on. Plus, we have Raygun, the greatest store in the Universe, that is making a fortune mocking the fact that you don’t know the difference between Idaho and Iowa (here’s a hint, we’re no where near Cascadia).

I don’t buy the argument that we’re “so far off the map from a pro-sports perspective.” We’re not asking for an MLS team (yet) and we actively support our Iowa Cubs and Iowa Barnstormers, as well as turn out in droves for college athletics of all kinds. We have Drake Soccer and Iowa State women nearby, and you’ve already praised our turn out for Des Moines Menace. Your suggestion to form a supporters group just shows how little you know about Iowa. We founded the 38th chapter of  American Outlaws in 2010, and we travel strong to US soccer games. You know that big flag in the supporters section? That’s the Midwest Mama, and AO DSM owns it and brings it everywhere. Back at home, the Red Army has supported the Menace for years, not just with tailgates, but we roast marshmallows after games, just because we’re Iowa Nice.

You’d rather be in LA even if Des Moines would out draw a team there? Short sighted and dumb. Come to a market where you’ll be supported and appreciated. Where fans won’t have to drive 45+ minutes fighting traffic to get to a game (unless they’re coming from Ames or something). With more start ups and mergers (you know about Meredith Publications, don’t you?) Des Moines is the next ultra-cool place to be. Try to sign us up before the bidding war starts. (You heard we just hired our new GM away from an NASL team, right?)

And a message to Kyle Krause, Des Moines Menace owner, I keep telling you it’s time to restart the Stadium Foundation project….I’m waiting for your call.) Des Moines’ time has come, and it’s only a matter of time until the rest of the soccer world figures it out.



Back in the USA
July 3, 2010, 9:52 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

We survived the 30 hours of flying it takes to get from South Africa to Des Moines and I’m mostly over travel fatigue and jet lag. My husband came down with a 104 fever, which we discovered is the FASTEST way to get into a walk in clinic: “I have a 104 fever and just returned from the World Cup in South Africa.” Fortunately, his wacky South African disease responded just fine to antibiotics, and I’m finally getting caught up with this blog!

The kids mauled us when we got back and it was about 48 hours of mutual adoration. We’ve settled back into the family summer routine, and the kids have accepted that when the World Cup is on, the parents are only available for emergencies, and there will probably be loud shouting at the television. The one piece of soccer culture they have passionately adopted is the vuvuzela. Our 7-1/2 year old daughter has learned how to blow it perfectly, and her almost 3 year old brother can make plenty of noise in his own, unsanctioned way.

There was an intense withdrawal period returning to the US after spending 3 weeks at the World Cup. You can talk all you want that the USA Round of 16 game had a 50% increase in viewers over previous World Cup, but the reality is that America has a long way to go before it’s pleasant for a soccer fan to be here for a World Cup. I have found that discussions with non-soccer fans range from painful to infuriating, so I try to avoid the “World Cup isn’t actually over” discussion altogether.

I have found Amici Espresso, which while it’s not a bar, does have the games on and a decent crowd of educated fans, and since the “late” game is on at 1:30 PM Iowa time, coffee is probably more appropriate anyway. The backstory is that Amici is tied to Kum and Go (yes, that’s really their name), which is tied to the Des Moines Menace, which is all related back to Kyle Krause (Kum and Go CEO), who may be the one person in Des Moines who is a bigger soccer than Doug and I, although I would argue that he is just better financed. Either way, if you love soccer in Des Moines, you should be filling your car at Kum and Go.

It’s good to be home, even if it feels like a foreign land while the Cup is still on.




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