Around the American Soccer: UCF and SMU hold strong as Conference’s lone ranked teams, others look for consistency

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No. 16 UCF played two strong contests this weekend. Pictured here is former UConn men’s soccer player Munir Saleh and current UCF defender Jack Closkey.  File Photo / The Daily Campus

No. 16 UCF played two strong contests this weekend. Pictured here is former UConn men’s soccer player Munir Saleh and current UCF defender Jack Closkey. File Photo / The Daily Campus

UConn’s 2-1 loss to Fairleigh Dickinson derails its quest to jump into the top 25. Undefeated SMU and battle-tested UCF represent the American nationally at 22 and 16, respectively. Temple and Cincinnati lose tight contests to stern opposition.  

No. 16 UCF (2-1-1) 

2-2 vs. Penn State, Sept. 6 

3-2(OT) vs. UTRVG, Sept. 8 

UCF played two games this past week, drawing vs. Penn State 2-2 on Friday and then beating the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley 3-2 in overtime on Sunday. At 2-1-1, they are now ranked No.16 in the nation. 

The American Conference’s offensive player of the week, senior Cal Jennings, netted three goals this week, including a brace against Penn State. UCF had every opportunity to secure a home win, outshooting the Nittany Lions 19-7 in double overtime.  

The two goals by Jennings were negated by UCF conceding a sloppy penalty half an hour into the first half, followed by Penn State’s Christian Sload chipping in a second equalizer from near midfield. The positioning by UCF goalie Yannick Oettl was questionable to say the least, but that takes nothing away from Sload’s incredible effort.  

Neither side determined a winner despite double overtime and Penn State surrendering 11 corners after halftime alone.  

Double overtime appeared to be the theme in Orlando this weekend, as UCF squandered a 2-0 halftime lead to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, until former all-conference midfielder Yoni Sorokin sunk a penalty to clinch it 106 minutes in.  

Undeterred by the two-goal deficit, UTRGV completely smothered the Knights in the second half, collecting more shots and corners by a staggering mark of 23-5. UCF was saved by Oettl, whose heroics in this match earned him all conference goalie honors for the week.  

UCF continues its homestand Friday against a 1-2 Virginia Commonwealth team, struggling to find the back of the net. 

No. 22 SMU (4-0-0) 

7-1 vs. Houston Baptist, Sept. 2 

2-0 vs. St. Louis, Sept. 6 

1-0 vs. UC Riverside, Sept. 9 

The SMU mustangs went 3-0 in their past few contests, starting with a 7-1 blowout over Houston Baptist on Tuesday, Sept. 2. They followed that up with a 2-0 victory over St. Louis on Friday and a 1-0 win over UC Riversdale on Monday, all of which helped get ranked at No. 22 in the nation. 

In the stretch of a week, SMU outscored their three opponents 10-1, only allowing eight shots on goal in 270 minutes.   

The Garrett McLaughlin-led SMU attack has been ruthless to begin their 2019 campaign. McLaughlin grabbed a hat trick against Houston Baptist, but the goals came from all over the pitch by senior defender Eddie Munjoma, netting both against St. Louis to bring his goal tally to three this season.  

Munjoma is absolutely one to look out for in the future, already representing the United States at the U19 level while also being a part of the FC Dallas academy from 2011. Continued stout defending along with a goal-scoring threat could make the SMU star a valuable member of an MLS roster as early as the 2020 season.  

Fellow defender Talen Maples was granted American Conference Defender of the Week honors for heading in his first goal of the season, along with leading the Mustang defense to back-to-back shutouts.  

SMU has done everything so far to merit their spot in the top 25, but a stern road test against the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils on Sept. 16 will show whether SMU is a legit national title contender or just the beneficiary of a forgiving early-season schedule.  

USF 

2-1 vs. Marquette, Sept. 6 

2-0 vs. No. 5 Louisville, Sept. 9  

While I may call into question the non-conference scheduling for other teams around the American, the USF Bulls could not have given themselves more of a test to begin the year.  

Granted, the Bulls lost their season opener at the defending champion No. 1 Maryland Terrapins, but the experience in that match proved massive. USF bounced back with back-to-back home wins against a Big East opponent in Marquette, and then an impressive 2-0 result against the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals. 

The Bulls were not intimidated by the highly-touted Cardinals; they produced a dominant performance beginning to end on their way to a stunning result. A spectacular solo goal in the 18th minute from Victor Claudel, the freshman import from Strasbourg, France, was an early nail in the coffin for the confident Bulls.  

USF continues its traditional domination of the Cardinals, improving the all-time record against their ACC adversary to 15-7-4, including a home record of 9-3-3. Given those statistics, perhaps this result shouldn’t have come as such a surprise after all.  

USF travels to Nashville on Friday to find some consistency at a 1-2-1 Lipscomb Bison team, which has already played two defeats against American opponents SMU and Tulsa.  

Other Notables  

The Memphis Tigers are a prime example of a team that has struggled with consistency. Victories against Cambell and Milwaukee have both been followed by disappointing losses against Wright State and Mercer, respectively. The Tigers have some time to find the stability that coach Richard Mulrooney expects, before the conference slate opens up with telling road tests with Cincinnati and our Huskies.  

Speaking of the Cincinnati Bearcats, they have had quite the frustrating start to their campaign. Their 1-3-0 record is a bit deceiving, and I believe undeserved. The Bearcats had a chance to gain some momentum following a 2-1 home victory against Albany, when they welcomed in-state, ranked rival Xavier to Nippert Stadium. Even with a commanding shot on goal advantage over the Musketeers, Cincinnati fell into a two-goal first-half deficit that proved too deep a hole for them to come back from. Four days later, they fell again 2-0, this time at the hands of Wright State.  


Tamir March is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached by email at tamir.march@uconn.edu

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