It took some doing, but a second-half surge from Des Moines Menace was enough to see them over the line for a 2-0 win over Peoria City Saturday night at Valley Stadium.
Despite both teams having clinched a spot in the USL League Two National Playoffs, it never felt like a match with nothing to play for.
From the first moment, it was evident that Menace would face a formidable challenge from the second-best side in the Deep North Division.
After two previous wins for Menace against Peoria on the year, the visitors were intent on picking up a result this time around.
Both sides traded early half-chances, but neither team could take control of the central areas of the pitch. End-to-end long balls and quick counters were the story of the first half, with Peoria creating the bulk of the positive movement.
Off the ball, frustrations always seemed one errant move away from boiling over. Menace striker Eliot Goldthorp
SECOND HALF (Menace 0 - 0 Peoria at half)
In the second half, Menace came out with a vengeance. Peoria stayed stingy defensively, but Des Moines found the opener in the 58th minute.
Jamaican center back Zeron Sewell rose for a header on a corner kick from attacking midfielder Ryley Kraft. The shot was deflected but fell back to Sewell perfectly, and his rebounded strike was too powerful for Peoria goalkeeper Edgar Vargas.
With a 1-0 advantage, Menace pressed on for a second goal but were met by further resistance from Peoria.
Neither side budged an inch, and tiring legs made for difficult work in the attacking third.
Tiring legs also made for rising emotions, which led to a double red card from an incident inside the box.
Midfield veteran Lance Rozeboom and Adria Sabater Olivas, Peoria's leading goalscorer, were both given their marching orders after a scuffle in the box that ended with Sabater Olivas kicking out at Rozeboom multiple times.
Unless a reversal of either decision occurs, both Rozeboom and Sabater Olivas will be ineligible for the first round of the USL League Two playoffs this Friday.
With three points still in the balance, substitute midfielder Devin Vega was able to claim the ball in attacking territory with acres of space.
Vega calmly took a 1v1 opportunity while Peoria committed numbers forward, and his finish beat the keeper for an insurance goal.
Starting XI (3-4-1-2): Joey Batrouni, goalkeeper; Connor Langan, Zeron Sewell, Kori Cupid, defenders; Gianluca Fiorini, Lance Rozeboom, Luka Nedic, Neville Morgan, Ryley Kraft, midfielders; Eliot Goldthorp, Brandon Bermingham, forwards
Menace's only goals came from first-time goalscorers for the first time since May 31.
Vega scored a goal on his debut match for Menace despite coming on as a second-half substitute.
Sewell is the second center back to score for Menace this season and the first to do so on a non-headed goal.
KICKS AND GIGGLES
Tonight's result marks the sixth clean sheet of the season for Menace and their first in three matches.
Menace have now earned 9 points from both teams they played on three occasions this season; after beating St. Croix SC Legends for the third time last week, they do so again with Peoria City.
All three of Peoria's losses on the season were at the hands of Menace.
"We're happy with the win and the clean sheet was the big thing for us today. I think in the first half, we were a little bit sloppy, [but in the] second half, we were able to pick it up a bit.
"Devin [Vega] is a really, really good player, so there was no real surprise when he made that impact.
"Peoria City are a very good team, so it's a good test before we go into playoffs. It's full focus on playoffs now; we'll see who we play next week."
comments from Menace head coach Dean Johnson
Menace will host their Round of 32 contest at Valley Stadium on Friday, July 22 against an opponent to be determined. Updates on playoff structure and the official playoff bracket will be available early next week at uslleaguetwo.com.
Menace's first-round contest will take place at 7 p.m. Friday in West Des Moines. A second Round of 32 match will be held at Valley Stadium Friday at 4 p.m., with the two winners meeting for a Round of 16 contest at Valley Stadium on Sunday, July 24 at 7 p.m.