A dramatic state of affairs went decisively the way of Des Moines Menace in their 4-0 win over Kaw Valley FC Friday night in front of thousands of fans at Valley Stadium.
While Kaw Valley deserved better than the scoreline showed, a pair of sending-offs left them unable to compete closely with the Central Conference's top seed.
Kaw Valley were the better side early, creating the majority of chances and controlling possession in the opening half-hour.
A pair of clear chances were dealt with by Menace's back line, which allowed the home side to go 1-0 up shortly after the first-half hydration break.
A quick counter attack was fruitful for Menace, with Eliot Goldthorp being the benefactor. He was able to run down the left-hand side of the box, dispatch a defender, and slot a cool finish into the back of the net.
With a 1-0 advantage, Menace used their momentum to keep creating chances, but the Cranes held firm on the scoresheet.
They did, however, lose central midfielder Aaron Keita as well as their head coach, Alex Nichols, in the dying embers of the first half. Without those two at Kaw Valley's aid, it was a rough prospect ahead for the visitors to keep their season alive in West Des Moines.
SECOND HALF (Menace 1 - 0 Kaw Valley at half)
Indeed, Des Moines were ruthless and effective in front of goal in the second period of play, scoring a second early in the second half through new striker Shaft Brewer Jr. The former LAFC player scored on his Menace debut to put the home side 2-0 ahead.
Des Moines kept pushing for more goals, and that's exactly what they came up with as the second half wore on.
It was Goldthorp again for goal number three on the night, scoring from close range and beating the keeper at his far post from the left side of the box.
From there, it only grew worse for the Cranes, who saw a second player sent off with a straight red card. This time, center back Tiago Dias was the guilty party in the 84th minute.
With the game mostly secured, a final nail in the coffin came from Irish forward Brandon Bermingham, who picked up his sixth goal of the year for Menace on a breakaway once Kaw Valley were down to nine men.
Starting XI (3-4-1-2): Grant Makela, goalkeeper; Connor Langan, Zeron Sewell, Kori Cupid, defenders; Neville Morgan, Gianluca Fiorini, Lance Rozeboom, Luka Nedic, Ryley Kraft, midfielders; Eliot Goldthorp, Shaft Brewer Jr., forwards
Brewer Jr. scored on his debut for Menace after joining from Fram Larvik in Norway.
Goldthorp picked up his second brace of the season, improving his total to a team-leading seven goals on the year.
Both of Menace's leading scorers coming into the match, Goldthorp and Bermingham, added to their totals against Kaw Valley.
KICKS AND GIGGLES
With the win, Menace continue their perfect all-time record against Kaw Valley, sporting five wins and two draws in seven meetings with the Cranes.
Menace have now won seven consecutive playoff matches and have not lost any match at home in their last twenty appearances.
Menace were the only 1-seed across the USL League Two National Playoffs to win their opening match and stay alive in the national title race.
After Kings Hammer FC defeated Kalamazoo FC at Valley Stadium earlier Friday, the Kentucky-based outfit will now be Menace's next opponent in the Central Conference semifinal.
"Up until the first hydration break, it looked like from out side that Kaw Valley just wanted it more than us, but I think the boys reacted well."
"The sending off helped us because it opened up a little bit more space for us in the middle."
"We executed in the second half and controlled the game really well; a win is a win and we move on to Sunday where hopefully we can get a result against Kings Hammer."
- comments from Menace head coach Dean Johnson
Menace continue their playoff run with another home match at Valley Stadium, this time facing 5-seed Kings Hammer FC. The match will kick off at 7 p.m. on Sunday, July 24.
The match will be streamed live on YouTube and Eleven Sports via CISN.