June 18, 2022
St. Croix faced off against Des Moines for the first time since opening their season against the defending USL2 Champions, and while they don’t have much to show for it, the growth within the team is evident.
“I mean… we talk to them a lot about every match. We’ve grown, I mean, no one probably would’ve given us a prayer to even get points in this league and we’re sitting on five [points] and no losses in our last three [matches], so we were very, very excited and we do feel like with the exception of giving up two goals in the last thirty seconds of each half, I mean, that’s a lot of growth,” Legends head coach Casey Holm told me after the match.
Just like in their last match-up, St. Croix held strong defensively against Des Moines to start the game. While the Menace had the lion’s share of the possession, the Legends were stalwart (and very physical) defensively, leading to yellow cards for both Thierno Gueye and Victor Gaulmin and allowing only three major chances in a half that they were predominantly playing on their back foot.
Rather unfortunately for them however, the final of those three chances found the feet of one Gianluca Fiorini as he made his trademark run down the near line, penetrated the Legends’ box, and calmly squared the ball to a streaking Brandon Bermingham who simply passed the ball into the back of the net to put the Menace up 1-0 right as the game was nearing the end of stoppage time.
Fiorini was a problem all game for St. Croix, “I think Gianluca was great, I think he was probably the best player on the field, in my opinion, tonight. He does that [attacking up the line] consistently… he’s a defender, but he’s a very big attacking threat for us,” Des Moines head coach Dean Johnson said when asked about how often Fiorini ran his way into open positions out on the wings.
The second half opened with more of the same as the Menace continued their oppressive attack, controlling the ball and making their way forward again and again, but every chance they had was left wanting. They forced multiple blocks out of the St. Croix defenders and a couple of key saves from Legends’ keeper Jack Morris.
At times, it even looked like St. Croix would be able to fight back and draw even with the division leaders. Nicholas Zuchkowski found a fantastic chance, walling off his defender inside the box, receiving a pass, and then laying it off beautifully for an in-cutting Gueye, who sent a shot towards the bottom right corner of the goal, only to be denied at the last second by Victor Makela.
This possibility was pushed farther from the realm of possibility when Gueye picked up his second yellow card of the game, leaving St. Croix to fight off Fiorini and the rest of the Menace attack with only ten men.
But with a team like St. Croix, nothing is impossible. Even down to ten men, they continued to make their way forward, finding more chances in the second half than they did with a full team. Victor Gaulmin took a pass from Kolton Prater and carried it 30 yards before finding a streaking Darnley Florvil in the Menace penalty area. Florvil’s attempted pass to Telvin Vah was snuffed out however, and the Legends remained scoreless.
Coach Holm loved every second of it, “Absolutely, it’s credit to these guys. That’s… I love their heart, they work so hard all the time, it’s really, really fun to kinda work with them because they just have that no quit, no fear attitude.”
It wasn’t long before another Menace chance came to call, and St. Croix wasn’t able to keep this one out. Felipe D’Agostini was played onto an open goal before having it stripped away from him by Victor Gaulmin. The ball bounced the wrong way though, and Ryley Kraft picked it up and put away an easy 1v1 against Morris. And so it was 2-0 for the Menace.
D’Agostini was even able to get in on the action in the dying minutes of the game, hitting a SportsCenter Top Ten worthy goal: juggling the ball over Niko Scheibal, dribbling around Morris, and sliding the ball home for the third and final goal of the game.
Des Moines moves up to nineteen points from seven games, firmly atop the Deep North Division. Meanwhile, St. Croix finds themselves in 4th place with five points to their name. They enter into the second half of their season when they play FC Manitoba in Canada on the 22nd of June. If they want to find themselves in a playoff position, they’ll have return to their form from their previous three game unbeaten streak, and put what they learned about themselves today to use. I certainly wouldn’t bet against them though. At the end of the day, they have a strong defense, an offense that will always find chances, and lots and lots of heart.