It certainly wasn't the result they wanted, but Madison Fire players walked off the field at Valley Stadium on Wednesday night in West Des Moines, Iowa, proud of their performance in a 2-1 loss to the host Des Moines Menace in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup first-round match.
Goals by Vince Cicciarelli and Ramone Howell in a half-hour stretch spanning halftime – both set up by right back Charlie Bales – gave the USL Premier Development League side a two-goal lead, and the Menace held on despite Trevor Banks (Madison Memorial) converting a penalty for the Fire in the 76th minute.
"Although we lost, we were pretty content and happy with the effort," Banks said Thursday. "We knew if we worked hard, we would at least put up a good fight. We had no intention of going in there and getting embarrassed. The mentality was to play pretty conservative, just sit in and defend well and pick and choose our chances to go forward. And there were a few spells in there where we kind of had them on their heels a little bit.
"I think we defended very well. They're a lot more fit, have a lot more pace, definitely bigger, a lot more physical. We were really kind of taking the brunt of their attack for most of it. They definitely had the run of play and they definitely had us against the wall for the most part."
The Fire, a Wisconsin Soccer Leagues Major Division team making their Open Cup debut, opened up in a 4-5-1 looking to contain the Menace.
Striker Kevin Fisher (Green Bay Southwest/Edgewood College) fired a shot off the post, and Banks saw his shot targeted for the upper left corner tipped over the crossbar by Des Moines goalkeeper Paul Blanchette.
"We had a good 5-, maybe 8-minute spell where we were all over them and could've potentially put ourselves up early, which would have changed the dynamic of the game a lot," Banks said.
Instead, last season's PDL regular-season champions went into the break with the lead. After a turnover near midfield, Bales broke free on the right side, pulled Fire keeper Ryan Germann (Madison West/UW-Milwaukee) off his line and played the ball to the middle of the box, where Cicciarelli had a simple tap-in into the vacant goal in the 35th.
The Menace doubled their advantage in the 62nd as Bales' low, driven cross found Howell, who got in behind the Madison backline and finished from inside the 6-yard box just a few minutes after coming into the game.
But the Fire were right back in the match after Banks' penalty. Ali Barry (Madison West), who had come on for Fisher, played a through ball into the box intended for Ryan Hanna (Verona/UW-Oshkosh). Banks said he expected Blanchette to easily scoop up the ball and was stunned when a Des Moines defender plowed through Hanna.
"It was just a reckless foul, an unnecessary foul. The defender just kind ran through Hanna in a situation where the ball was pretty much just going to roll into the keeper's hands," Banks said. "We'll take it – it was kind of a lucky break. It was absolutely a foul, but it was a situation that shouldn't have happened."
Banks stepped to the spot and beat Blanchette low to the left side to pull Madison within 2-1 with 14 minutes remaining. The Fire switched into a 4-4-2 and tried to build on the momentum, but weren't able to find an equalizer.
Still, it was a successful night in Banks' eyes.
"The fact that our little, old Madison Fire was in the U.S. Open Cup, that's awesome," said Banks, who also played in the tournament with the Madison 56ers in 2011. "That's an opportunity I think everyone was really thrilled to be able to be a part of. After the game, everyone was like, 'That was really fun, I'm glad we made the trip.' ... It was cool for Madison soccer and everybody who's been a part of the Fire."
The Menace won their first match in the Open Cup for the fourth consecutive year – they beat the Milwaukee Bavarians NPSL team 3-1 after extra time in 2012 and the 56ers 1-0 in 2013 – and advance to play at USL side Saint Louis FC in a second-round game next Wednesday.
Marquette's C. Nortey started and played 85 minutes for Des Moines. University of Wisconsin defender Carl Schneider (Madison La Follette) also is on the Menace roster this season, but hasn't yet joined the team.
May 13, 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup first-round match
At Valley Stadium, West Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines Menace – Vince Cicciarelli (Charlie Bales) 35
Des Moines Menace – Ramone Howell (Charlie Bales) 62
Madison Fire – Trevor Banks (penalty kick) 76
DES MOINES MENACE: Paul Blanchette; Charlie Bales, Austin Polster, Alec Bartlett, Fernando Machado; John Lujano, Daniel Johnson, Christopher Hellmann, C. Nortey (Mueng Sunday 85); Vince Cicciarelli (Benjamin Maurey 66), Ben Gerald (Ramone Howell 60). Substitutes not used: Nico Campbell (GK), Brett Lane, Raul Gonazlez, Cory Thomas.
MADISON FIRE: Ryan Germann; Allan Guzman (Demba Camara 88), Brian Bultman, Brett Ogorzalek, Alex Nyangon; Trevor Banks, Bubba Schultz, Ryan Hanna, Alfredo Ramirez Pinho (Will McAteer 58), David Kommavang; Kevin Fisher (Ali Barry 60). Substitutes not used: None.
Shots: DM 7, M 3. Fouls: DM 10, M 10. Corner kicks: DM 11, M 1. Saves: DM 2, M 5. Offsides: DM 2, M 1. Discipline: DM – Blanchette (yellow) 77; M – Hanna (yellow) 58.