The opening weekend of the 2022 USL League Two National Playoffs saw Menace progress to the Central Conference Final in style.
After beating Kaw Valley FC 4-0 in the first round and Kings Hammer FC 4-1 in the conference semifinal, they’ll set their sights on the second weekend of action, one which will lead all the way up to the National Final on August 6.
Menace keep the right to host, winning a bid to hold another Friday doubleheader on July 29 and a national semifinal match on July 31. Let’s take a look at what it will take to survive another weekend in West Des Moines.
Two rounds of action across the country cut a 32-team field down to just eight, with two teams remaining in each of USL League Two’s four conferences.
The teams that are still alive are as follows:
Des Moines Menace - Central Conference, Deep North Division
Flint City Bucks - Central Conference, Great Lakes Division
Ballard FC - Western Conference, Northwest Division
Ventura County Fusion - Western Conference, Southwest Division
Long Island Rough Riders - Eastern Conference, Metropolitan Division
Seacoast United Phantoms - Eastern Conference, Northeast Division
One Knoxville SC - Southern Conference, South Central Division
North Carolina Fusion U23 - Southern Conference, South Atlantic Division
After each conference crowns a champion, the Central and Western winners will meet in West Des Moines, while the Eastern and Southern representatives will contest the other national semifinal in Knoxville, Tennessee.
This Friday, July 29, the action continues with all four conference championship matches taking place on the same day.
The first matchup of a busy Friday afternoon sees Ballard FC take on Ventura County Fusion for the Western Conference title, a match which kicks off from Valley Stadium at 3 p.m. Central time.
Soon after, things kick off in Knoxville, where Seacoast United and Long Island will play out the Eastern Conference Final at 3:30 p.m. Central time.
The second leg of the doubleheader in Tennessee is slated to start at 6:30 Central, when the hosts One Knoxville will look to keep their inaugural season alive against last year’s runners-up, North Carolina Fusion.
The Central Conference will follow suit at 7 p.m. Central when Menace play host to Flint City.
There is no love lost between Menace and Flint, two age-old rivals in the league who can each call on over 25 years of experience in what is now known as USL League Two.
Despite only being division opponents for one year in 1996, the clubs have met 11 times in total leading up to Friday’s contest. The Bucks have the edge over Menace in the all-time series, leading 7-4 and holding a 6-3 edge in playoff matches.
In recent seasons, though, the rivalry has been split more evenly. Menace have won two of the last three meetings, with the only loss coming on penalties. The most recent match was just last season, when Menace dispatched Flint City in the Central Conference semifinal by a score of 1-0.
On top of being storied, long-lasting franchises in the league, Menace and Flint City are also two of the most successful clubs USL League Two has ever seen.
The Bucks are the winningest club in league history, with four national titles to their name. Menace, meanwhile, are defending champions and bring two national championships into Friday’s heavyweight fight.
While it’s impossible to know who will take the cake in this edition of the long-standing rivalry between these two, it’s safe to say that a closely-contested and hard-fought battle will be the expectation from both sides, and each club will want to win at all costs.
If Menace and Ventura County both win their respective Friday matches, they will meet for the first time in club history despite playing in the same league since 2007.
Menace are hoping to be the first-ever club to win two consecutive championships since 2003, when the feat was accomplished by the Cape Cod Crusaders.
Flint City Bucks have been the club to end Menace’s summer on six occasions, more than any other club.
A repeat of the 2021 USL League Two National Final is still possible, as Menace and North Carolina Fusion could both still advance to the final.
The return of former Menace head coach Mark McKeever could also be on the cards, as McKeever is currently managing One Knoxville SC. Striker Sebastian Andreassen is one of several players from the 2021 Menace roster who have also spent their summer in Knoxville.
SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION
Now that we know who’s on our side of the bracket, let's take a moment to get to know who we’re hosting this weekend.
Flint City Bucks - Flint, Michigan
Founded in 1995 as Mid-Michigan Bucks, 26th season in USL League Two
Record: 8 wins, 3 draws, 3 losses
How they qualified: second-place finish in Great Lakes Division
Playoff journey: 3-1 over South Bend Lions; 2-1 over Chicago FC United
Player to watch: Jelldrik Dallmann (12 goals, 1 in playoffs)
Ventura County Fusion - Ventura, California
Founded in 2006, 14th season in USL League Two
Record: 8 wins, 2 draws, 2 losses
How they qualified: second-place finish in Southwest Division
Playoff journey: 3-2 over Flatirons Rush, 2-1 over Southern California Seahorses
Player to watch: Sergio Villalpando (2 goals in playoffs, Fusion academy graduate)
Ballard FC - Seattle, Washington
Founded in 2022, 1st season in USL League Two
Record: 8 wins, 2 draws, 2 losses
How they qualified: second-place finish in Northwest Division
Playoff journey: 2-1 over Project 51O; 3-2 after extra time over San Francisco Glens
Player to watch: Alex Mejia (2 goals in playoffs)
Now that you know all about the Central Conference playoffs, it's time for you to become a part of it! Tickets are available now for Menace's first-round match against Kaw Valley on July 22.