A loss is a rare occasion for Des Moines Menace at Valley Stadium, but that was the harsh reality for the 2021 National Champions as they crashed out of the 2022 USL League Two National Playoffs.
Bitter rivals Flint City Bucks took home the Central Conference title 5-4 on penalties, never faltering from the spot after a 1-1 draw was the result of 120 minutes in West Des Moines.
In a complete reversal of previous fixtures, Menace got out to an early lead but struggled from then on.
Flint City's midfield kept Menace from controlling the match, but before that could play out, Eliot Goldthorp produced a moment of brilliance inside the box.
Goldthorp took a pass at the left edge of the box, put his head down and dribbled past four defenders before slotting home the opener inside three minutes.
From there, though, the Bucks buckled down and settled into the match. Amadou Cisse and Jelldrik Dallmann both struck the woodwork before the halftime whistle, but nothing found the back of the net for Flint City.
SECOND HALF (Menace 1 - 0 Flint City at half)
A physical first half manifested into a fiery second half, as both teams sensed the tension and the pressure.
Flint City again played with panache and were comfortable in possession, creating more chances for Grant Makela to deal with in the Menace goal.
It took some doing, but Flint would finally find a shot Makela couldn't stop right at the 57-minute mark.
Midfielder Harvey Slade used his six-foot-four frame to rise above Goldthorp and head in the equalizer on a corner kick from Wylie Trujillo.
The situation grew worse for the home side late on, as Menace were reduced to ten men in stoppage time.
With the match still level at 1 apiece, center back Zeron Sewell muscled a Flint City attacker off the ball. His challenge was a denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, resulting in a straight red card.
The Jamaican center back left his team down a man with the clock winding down in regular time, but Menace saw the rest of the 90 minutes out to force extra time.
EXTRA TIME (Menace 1 - 1 Flint City after regular time)
There, neither side had enough energy or creativity to create chances. Both sides defended well in the necessary moments, which left the result in the balance as the 120th minute approached.
In the 112th minute, Des Moines received a big benefit with a second yellow card shown to substitute Abdul Kuku for the Bucks.
With both teams down a man, neither side found a clinical edge to end it before penalties were required.
Menace #1 - Felipe D'Agostini, MISSED (0-0)
Flint #1 - Wylie Trujillo, SCORED (0-1)
Menace #2 - Brayan Padilla, SCORED (1-1)
Flint #2 - Amadou Cisse, SCORED (1-2)
Menace #3 - Kori Cupid, SCORED (2-2)
Flint #3 - Aedon Kyra, SCORED (2-3)
Menace #4 - Lance Rozeboom, SCORED (3-3)
Flint #4 - Seth Mohlmeister, SCORED (3-4)
Menace #5 - Brandon Bermingham, SCORED (4-4)
Flint #5 - Hugo Bacharach, SCORED (4-5, FINAL)
Flint wins 5-4 on penalties
Starting XI (3-4-1-2): Grant Makela, goalkeeper; Connor Langan, Zeron Sewell, Kori Cupid, defenders; Shaft Brewer Jr., Neville Morgan, Lance Rozeboom, Luka Nedic, Ryley Kraft, midfielders; Devin Vega, Eliot Goldthorp, forwards
Vega made just his second appearance on the season for Menace and his only start.
Kraft, the captain, was the only player to appear in every match for Menace across the regular season and playoffs.
Goldthorp's goal saw him finish as Menace's top scorer, picking up nine goals on the 2022 campaign.
KICKS AND GIGGLES
The Bucks were the team to end Menace's season for the seventh time in series history.
With the loss, Menace lose an unbeaten streak at Valley Stadium dating back to 2017.
The red card to Sewell was Menace's second sending-off of the season, the other one shown to Makela in the season opener at Minneapolis City SC on May 14.
The loss also voids a 21-match unbeaten run in all competitions.
Flint City advance to the National Semifinal Sunday, where they will meet up with Ventura County Fusion from the Western Conference on Sunday, July 31 at 7 p.m. That match will be hosted at Valley Stadium.
The season comes to a close for Des Moines after the loss. Menace will next be in action in the 2023 US Open Cup in spring of 2023. Follow menacesoccer.com for more updates as the 2023 Open Cup and League Two seasons approach!