Denver Comes Up Short Against SMU, 2-1

On a drizzly, foggy night in Dallas, Texas, it felt light years away from September 1st when the Pioneers (12-3-5) defeated the SMU Mustangs 3-1 at Pioneer Field. In the rematch Sunday night, the Mustangs used a dominant first half and barely hung on as Denver fought back from a 2-0 deficit to fall 2-1 in the second round of the NCAA College Cup Tournament.

In the first half, an unlikely long, looping throw-in by the Mustangs at 22:18 changed everything. The ball made it into the goal box and glanced off SMU’s Bailey Sparks head – the ball bounced off the ground and gently slipped through keeper Isaac Neheme’s hands into goal. At that point, the Mustangs took over the first half with 70% of the possession. Six minutes before the end of the half, SMU’s Jose Ortiz sent a rifle shot from 20 yards out into the lower left corner of the goal, 2-0, Mustangs.

Denver came out with more aggression and possession in the second half. A violent collision between DU’s Bryce Willoughby and the SMU keeper Cole Johnson resulted in a penalty kick goal by DU’s Sam Basset, 2-1, at 67:43. Suddenly, what was a rout turned into a match. A desperate Denver side pulled forward into the Mustang defensive zone. In the final five minutes, Denver battled back and found the SMU goalpost three times in the final four minutes. DU’s best chance came at 4:00 minutes when a Tyler Schommer shot went off the right post. A DU corner kick at 87:48 ricocheted off the top crossbar. Another Oje Ofunrein shot in the goal box with 40 seconds remaining found woodwork. Denver could not find the equalizer before time expired.

Despite a poor first half, DU generated the best chances in the second half. Denver left it all on the field despite losing three of their best players earlier in the season to injury. Head Coach Jamie Franks and his team should feel good about their effort in this second-round NCAA Tournament defeat. Still, one wonders what might have been without a depleted roster fighting #6 seed SMU even-up on the road.



3 thoughts on “Denver Comes Up Short Against SMU, 2-1”

  1. There aren’t a lot of teams in NCAA Soccer that would make the NCAA tourney second round if you took away their three captains and best players/all America candidates to season ending injuries. Yet there DU was, pushing the sixth best team in the country in the final minutes, on SMU’s home field, hitting the woodwork three times – 2 posts and a cross bar. By an inch or two, SMU is advancing and DU isn’t.

    Yes, SMU was the better team overall and deserved to win.

    Yes, Nehme let in a “howler” of a bad goal to get the Mustangs going in the first half. Happens to the best of them. I’m sure it will energize him next season.

    But we Pio fans should be very proud of the way DU overcame the losses of Ben Smith, Trevor Wright and Ronan Wynne and gave every last ounce of energy in the post season.

    Finally, one of the challenges of soccer at DU is that final exams always fall during the NCAA tournament, which is something that DU has to deal with and most other schools on semester systems don’t. DU is usually in the top 3 GPAs nationally for soccer, too. Hats off to Coach Franks and his team for producing being a showcase program that shines the right light on what being a student athlete is all about, here at DU and around the country.

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