SMU advances to NCAA Quarterfinals with OT win

On a blustery night in Dallas, SMU wing back Eddie Munjoma needed just 18 seconds of overtime to advance the Ponies to the NCAA Quarterfinals. The 2-1 win over conference rivals Central Florida sees SMU move on to face #1 seed, Virginia.

While the West wind didn’t favor either team it was certainly a factor as it affected play all evening. Likely high MLS draft pick Cal Jennings got UCF on the board first with his 18th goal of the season in the 25th minute. The play came down the Knights left with an overload by outside back Glademir Mendoza.

SMU rallied roughly 10 minutes later as Gabriel Costa scored a penalty kick earned on one of the many SMU counter attacks.

SMU midfielder Gabriel Costa scores a penalty kick in the first of the NCAA Soccer Tournament round of 16 game between SMU and UCF. (Daniel McCullough, 3rd Degree)

But it is Monjoma who is the hero on the night with the game-winner just 18 seconds into overtime. A turnover in midfield allowed the Ponies to overlap on the right almost before UCF was ready to play. Munjoma took a touch in the box and fired back post for the goal and ticket to the Quarters.

Talking Tactics

SMU lists four defenders on their starting XI, which may be how they draw it up, but that’s not how it executes. In the run of play, it’s quite fluid, but it sure looks to me like it’s a 3-4-2-1.

SMU’s starting XI against Central Florida in 2019 NCAA Round of 16.

Now if you want to claim Munjoma is given a massive license to get forward from right back and play end-line to end-line, that Knut Ahlander is the right mid and just plays as a false wing… well I suppose you could claim that. But I would say that’s a massive stretch.

Certainly, the three defenders keep a back three shape almost the entire time, rotating to cover up both the UCF wingers at times if the corresponding wing back wasn’t sitting deep.

SMU, in this game at least, sit in a mid to low block and attempt to keep everything in front of their back three. When they regain possession they counter-attack either straight to McLaughin or using the wings on overlaps. Anything that falls underneath or pops back out is cleaned up by Costa or Ahlander for second opportunities.

UCF plays a clear cut 4-1-4-1 with a deep sitting single pivot.

UCF starting XI at SMU in 2019 NCAA Round of 16.

The Knights play a higher possession game than SMU and, in fact, created more real scoring chances on the night. They are all about getting the ball into the feet of Cal Jennings who, as mentioned, grabbed his 18th of the season in this one. They look to play down either wing and get crosses from Barry and Vivi, or build up the middle and play balls into the box from Perez and Villalobos.

It’s a very effective method of build and possession, but it did leave them exposed to the counter if they get caught up and turn it over. Which is exactly what happened in OT.

Scouting

Of course, we’re interested here at 3rd Degree in the pro potential, specifically the pathways to FC Dallas and that means the three hypothetical Homegrown defenders for SMU. I’ll mention a couple of other guys who caught my eye, afterward.

Eddie Munjoma – He’s playing on the right for SMU but he was on the left in his Academy days and has also played left the times I’ve seen in FC Dallas summer training. The versatility is a real positive, something FCD Coach Luchi Gonzalez likes generally speaking. He has end-to-end game, pace, and verticality. In essence, I just described a Luchi-Ball outside back. Certainly, he’s a difference-making talent at this level. Munjoma has impressed me in training with Dallas the few times I’ve seen him and does so again in this game. He’s atop my list now for a potential college Homegrown signing by FC Dallas, I hope they grab him up.

SMU defender Eddie Munjoma (12) dribbles past UCF defender Glasdemir Mendoza (31) in the first half of the NCAA Soccer Tournament round of 16 game between SMU and UCF. (Daniel McCullough, 3rd Degree)

Philip Ponder – Has a quick, short distance burst and didn’t get beat for pace. He’s the sit-deep-and-cover center back in the SMU set up. He seems to read the game well enough and can handle the ball solidly. He would need to improve his passing for the next level. If he were interested he’d be a good target as a senior for a spot with North Texas SC. Give him a season or two and see how he progresses.

Brandon Terwege – The more aggressive center back for SMU, he attacks balls in the air and on the ground. A better than average passer out of the back. As a junior, I’d like to see how he does next season running the SMU defense. I want to see him single-handedly dominate high caliber forwards. If he were a senior now, I’d say offer him a North Texas SC spot, but I’d rather wait and see if he progresses. He might be worth a legit Homegrown deal after his senior season.

Cal Jennings – He’s certainly the best pure offensive talent in this game and the most dangerous. A real difference-maker. Terrific with the ball, can hold off a defender and turn, and seems to have a knack for scoring. A good looking athlete. I can see why he’ll get drafted by someone in the SuperDraft this January.

Garrett McLaughlin – There is lots of stuff to like here, but he didn’t get a ton of help as he was high by himself for much of the game and UCF was able to bracket him. He’s got good qualities and some grit but wasn’t able to find a way to make a difference, although he did earn lots of fouls and UCF had to spend a lot of energy marking him. That matters too. He’s for sure worth a look for someone in MLS, just not FC Dallas I don’t think.

Glademir Mendoza – UCF’s left back, he was actually the player that most intrigued me in this one. A red-shirt freshman (transfer from New Mexico) originally from Phoenix. He was sporting that high #31 of a younger player, but he didn’t play like it. There is a smoothness and maturity to his game I really like. His overload on the left led directly to the Jennings’ goal. As a freshman, he was overmatched by Munjoma, but I see some serious upside here. Looking up his bio… he’s been a US U18 and U20 and he was an RSL Academy kid in PHX. Well, that explains it.

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