It took some patience, but four goals found the back of the net for Des Moines Menace in the end to highlight a 4-1 victory over Minneapolis City SC. The result cements Menace's position atop the Deep North Division table, giving them five wins and a draw from six matches.
It took just 18 seconds for the visitors to give Menace a scare. A quick ball from kickoff down the left side of attack found the feet of Loic Mesanvi, who came close to a first-time goal to kick the match off.
Surviving the early chance, Menace took some time to settle and control possession, as both sides traded chances in an end-to-end start.
Opportunities started to come thick and fast for the home side on the stroke of 25 minutes, with multiple chances coming from wide services. Outside backs Kori Cupid and Neville Morgan peppered the box with passes, but strikers Fernando Garcia and Alessandro Salvadego couldn't turn the ball into the back of the net.
That is, until the 42nd minute, when Garcia took a pass from central midfield and hit a first-time effort into the bottom left corner with pace. Despite a tough angle on the right side of goal, the North Carolina native picked up his third goal of the campaign and his second at Valley Stadium.
"Once we were able to find our rhythm, we looked a lot more comfortable," Menace head coach Dean Johnson said.
Garcia would leave one more mark on the match before the halftime whistle, cutting a ball back in the box to find Salvadego at the back post, who only had to tap it in for the game's second goal.
Garcia's performance put Menace in a much more positive position going into the break, leading to a 2-0 advantage midway through the match.
SECOND HALF (Menace 2 - 0 City at halftime)
It quickly became more of the same for Menace in the second half, as the club kept City at bay in the early stages of the second half and turned up the heat offensively.
Garcia still had more to give, grabbing a second assist on the night with a second square ball to a teammate. This time, central midfielder Eliot Goldthorp was the man to finish the chance, scoring from the edge of the box with a powerful strike across the face of goal.
The former Bradford City man now has three goals and two assists to his credit after providing the third of the evening for the defending USL2 National Champions.
Not giving up on the game, the Crows found a goal to keep themselves competitive down the stretch. Tricky attacking midfielder Lionel Vang played in a free kick to the back post, where Mpls City Futures product Mesanvi was waiting to head it in.
With the match at 3-1, Menace were determined to get an insurance goal, and it came from an unlikely source.
Center back Alfeu Bertini of Brazil met a right-side cross from Cupid with his head, playing the ball of the turf before bouncing into the upper-left corner for his first goal as a Menace player.
"Alfeu was unbelievable at the back, and for me, the best player of the match," Johnson said of his center back.
With the scoreline at 4-1 in the 84th minute, the result was all but sealed, giving Menace another win to build on in their quest for another national title.
"The boys got the job done, and that's the main thing," Johnson said. "It's on to the next one now."
Starting XI (3-5-2): Joey Batrouni, goalkeeper; Connor Langan, Zeron Sewell, Alfeu Bertini, defenders; Kori Cupid, Neville Morgan, Timothy Mason, Eliot Goldthorp, Ryley Kraft; midfielders; Alessandro Salvadego, Fernando Garcia; forwards
Garcia's two assists were his first of the season, putting him joint-second in assists on the team behind Kraft.
Garcia and Salvadego lead the team in scoring with three goals each; Salvadego has scored his three in just two appearances this season.
Striker Brandon Bermingham and central midfielder Narciso Cervantes came on as substitutes for their first appearances this year.
KICKS AND GIGGLES
Menace now sport a 13-match unbeaten run dating back to last season.
The all-time series is 3-0 for Menace over Minneapolis City, including a 4-2 win at Valley Stadium in the 2022 U.S. Open Cup.
One more away stretch awaits Menace, as they travel to St. Croix in a week's time followed by a midweek meeting with Peoria City. Both matches kick off at 7 p.m. central time.