Every Minnesota United FC player looks forward to games against MLS teams. They all want to prove they belong at a higher level, and playing against those teams offers the best opportunity they'll get.
The Des Moines Menace, United's opponent tomorrow night in the first round of the US Open Cup, is two levels below Minnesota. It's a team made up of amateur college players, all of whom are dreaming of a future in the pros, and so their hunger to beat United is roughly equivalent to the Minnesota players' desire to beat an MLS team.
Any Open Cup game is a big game, but for the Menace, it's even bigger. In order to find out more about the team, I emailed Chris Cuellar, a Des Moines Register sports journalist. He was nice enough to answer a few questions.
1. A lot of NASL players really get up for games against MLS teams, in the Open Cup or otherwise, because it's a chance to show they belong at the top level. Is the same true for the Menace, playing against a pro team?
Absolutely. The franchise takes plenty of pride in its four straight Open Cup appearances, and the professional club matchup is even more significant as this season's Menace has a record number of NCAA Division I players. Opportunities to show they deserve a job after college don't get much better.
2. Who are the players to watch for Des Moines - the guys that can really turn the tide in a cup game like this?
The offense has yet to really take off, but Jamaican strikers Jimmy Tulloch and Nico Wright are strong, traditional targets that are capable of breaking through at any time. Left back Albert Edward takes plenty of risks coming forward because he's got speed that has blistered Des Moines' amateur opponents.
3. How big are the Menace in Des Moines - well-known, or a minor attraction?
A well-known brand in a small soccer community. The same contingent of fans support the team regardless of form, but a lack of history and top-level success in Des Moines keep the Menace a niche attraction.
4. How does the Menace recruit their squad each year? Do they tend to come back year after year in college, or does the roster begin from scratch?
A new general manager and coach meant greater turnover this year and just eight returning players. Recruiting reaches all levels of college soccer and some players that have MLS combine or practice squad experience and can maintain amateur status. It's quite an undertaking each season, with divisional opponents located in Canada adding to all the paperwork.
5. Like United, Des Moines has a large number of games in a short amount of time. How does the team prioritize - does the league or the cup come first?
Unprecedented depth has allowed coach Mike Jeffries to rotate the squad some, with the cup taking priority at this point in the season. United presents a huge opportunity and an upset would potentially mean one of the biggest games in franchise history. Management will deal with a bland 1-0 win on Saturday if the team is upset-ready on Tuesday.
My thanks to Chris for answering my questions.