by Kyle Eliason
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minneapolis City SC finally got its chance to play in the U.S. Open Cup, proper, on Wednesday night, traveling 240-plus miles south to face the Des Moines Menace at Valley Stadium. After the final whistle sounded, Minneapolis left Iowa with its pride intact, but without a berth into the tournament’s second round. A brace from second-half substitute Alessandro Salvadego had carried the hosts to a 4-2 victory.
The game was a tense one — at least until Salvadego’s dagger-like second goal plunged into the Crows’ net in 78th minute — that saw momentum swing with real force between the two sides. Candor requires the admission that the balance of play resided with the hosts, even prior to the Menace pulling away late. And though 93 minutes of soccer resulted in defeat, the evening was not necessarily a loss for the visitors.
The Crows stood toe-to-toe and traded blows with the defending USL League Two champions.
“I don’t think we got rattled. We weren’t trying to kick the ball away. We were trying to play and do what we do,” said head coach Matt VanBenschoten. “This team has only trained once a week for a short time. The effort was really, really good and it’s a lot to build upon.”
VanBenschoten highlighted how special he thought the composition of the 18-man squad that traveled to Iowa was, blending together Futures-program call-ups with veterans of past City campaigns, all with ties to the Twin Cities that extend beyond soccer.
“It’s the heart of what City is,” said VanBenschoten.
Little Canada native Lionel Vang opened the scoring in the 20th minute. As he stood off the ball, preparing to take a free kick, ESPN+ color commentator Ryan Davis remarked that 31 yards was too far a distance for a shot on goal.
To Davis’ credit, he would raise his hand and admit fault later in the broadcast, during a replay of Vang using his right foot as the launchpad for a rocket that was still gaining altitude as it screamed past Menace goalkeeper Felix Schäfer on its way to the back of the net. That same replay eventually made its way to second place on SportsCenter’s nightly Top 10.
Asked if he had ever scored from an equal or greater distance before, Vang said no. In his typical understated manner, the 2021 NPSL North Conference Best XI winger mentioned that he had worked on his free kicks over the winter.
VanBenschoten added that a brief discussion during training on Tuesday decided Vang should take the Crows free kicks.
The Menace rallied immediately with a trio of chances, calling Crows keeper Troy Louwagie into action. Initially, it seemed as if the Minneapolis defense could bend without breaking. But under sustained pressure, two goals followed. Maximiliano Galizzi leveled the score in the 38th minute and William Rodrigues gave Des Moines its first lead six minutes into the second half.
The Crows’ response would come from 18-year-old Loïc Mesanvi who had only recently been deputized into the first team. Due to a pair of injuries, the current Lakeville South High School senior found himself starting at forward.
In the 61st minute, 2020-21 Gatorade Minnesota Boys Soccer Player of the Year recipient Zach Susee looped a bounding ball in Mesanvi’s direction. Taking advantage of the night’s cold and windy conditions, the latter made his play.
“I knew the ball was going to skip. Their center back couldn’t get a touch on it, so I picked it off. Looked at the goalie, calm, and shot it into the corner,” said Mesanvi.
The youngest player on the field lept and pumped his fist in celebration.
“I can’t even tell you — I was feeling all of it, at that moment,” Mesanvi reflected.
For some young players, a lack of experience is an asset, in so much as they do not feel the pressure that comes with playing in a century-old competition. But City’s head coach did not feel that was applicable to Mesanvi.
“I think the goal speaks for itself. He’s capable of playing at this level, as is Zach Susee,” countered VanBenschoten. “The whole point is to take local players and give them the opportunity on a national stage to show what they can do.”
Scouting Director Jon Bisswurm reported that the young forward later fell asleep in a restaurant booth after dinner.
For the Crows fans that made the four-hour trip to Des Moines, gathered to watch the game at Utepils Brewing in Minneapolis, or streamed the match online, both goals provided moments of joy. For Menace fans, Salvadego’s well-crafted brace would bring the same, and ultimately victory.
“[At halftime] we talked about continuing to play defensively, tight-together, as a unit,” said Vang. “The moment we got spread out, that’s when they pressed us and actually got there.”
And just so, a wonderful night that teased a memorable season to come was made bittersweet by a disappointing finish.
“The way that we trained, the way we’re capable of playing, we just got away from that at times,” echoed VanBenschoten. “If we stick to that, we showed really clearly what we’re capable of as a team.”