|School – SMU|
|Conference – American Athletic Conference|
|Coach – Kevin Hudson (2nd Season)|
Background – Under the guidance of first year head coach Kevin Hudson, SMU won the American Athletic Conference regular season championship in 2015, earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2010, and finished the year with a very solid 15-3-4 overall record.
This is a program that has a tradition of winning as reflected in the fact that they have earned a spot in the NCAA Tourney a total of thirty times including eighteen of the past twenty-two years and advanced to the College Cup in 2000 and 2005. However, for the past couple of years the Mustangs have expereineced a few sub-par seasons by their own standards in terms of national standing.
By all measures Hudson's first year at the helm of the program with a relatively young team was a huge success and a very good sign for the future health and productivity of the program.
Mauro Cichaero was named a 2015 All-American by the NSCAA and College Soccer News. Cichaero was also named he American Athletic Conference Offense Player of the Year. John Lujano was named the AAC Midfielder of the Year. Michael Nelson was named the AAC Goalkeeper of the Year. Hudson and his staff were named the AAC Coaching Staff of the Year. Cichero, Lujano, and Nelson were named to the 2015 All-AAC First Team. Jordan Cano was named to the All-AAC Second Team. Christian Boorom, Emil Cuello and Caleb Smith were named to the AAC All-Rookie Team.
Offense – SMU will be balanced and athletic on the offensive side of the ball with a roster that includes plenty of very capable playmakers supplemented by several freshmen with the potential to add even more firepower. Five of the six top goal scorers return including players who were responsible for thirty-three of the fortty goals the Mustang's scored last year. Forward Idi Camara (6g, 2a) is the lone primary goal scorer lost due to graduation.
Junior Mauro Cichero (10g, 9a) from Norman, Oklahoma, who was the team's leading goal scorer last year, returns to power the attack up-top. Cichero can score in waves. Sophomores Caleb Smith (1g, 1a) and Christian Boorom (4g, 1a) also return up-top with the advantage of having a year of playing experience at the collegiate level under their belts.
The Mustangs will miss the services of midfielder John Lujano (1g, 3a) who was a four-year starter. Lujano was a team leader and a catalyst on both sides of the ball. Regardless, a very deep and now battle tested group of linkmen return giving the Mustangs a midfield heading into the 2016 season that seems built to run, which is vintage SMU soccer. RS senior Brenden Lee (6g, 4a), senior Stanton Garcia (6g, 2a), junior Bryce Clark (1g, 4a) and sophomore Emil Cuello (3g, 4a) are among a solid group of returning midfielders who will add punch to the offense.
D.J. Williams Jr. and Tosh Yasuda are among ten member recruting class who could add immediately to the attack up-top or in the midfield.
Defense – The graduation of veteran back Jacob Speed leaves a gap to be plugged in the SMU defense. Junior Jared Rice (1g, 10a) who led SMU in assists last year, and junior Jordan Cane who have been starters for the past two seasons return to anchor the backline. Senior Taylor Curtis who transferred in last year from Louisville should also figure prominently in the back in 2016. RS senior Michael King and sophomore Kevin Meinecke are among other returning defenders who should be in the mix for a greater role in 2016. Freshman center back Phillip Ponder is among the newcomers who could push for playing time.
RS junior MIchael Nelson, who has been the AAC Goalkeeper of the Year for the past two seasons, returns between the pipes to give the Mustangs a very talented and experienced presence in goal. Last year Nelson had a 0.99 goals against average while anchoring an SMU defense that posted nine clean sheets.
Newcomers – Four Star Recruiting Class
Coach Hudson stated, "We believe this is an elite group of players who will immediately make us better. We expect significant contributions from these freshmen this fall."
Jocob Cohen – Forward – Phoenix, Arizona – Chaparral – Played for the 98 SC Del Sol team. Member of the Arizona State ODP team. Captain of high school team.
Boston Gilbert – Midfielder – San Antonio, Texas – San Antonio Christinan High School – Played for the Alamo Revolution. First Team All-District.
Brandon Guhl – Forward – Houston, Texas – Played for Texas Rush Academy. U.S. Soccer Development Academy Central Conference Starting IX. Ranked 3rd in scoring during the 2014-15 U.S. Soccer Academy season with 31 goals.
Patrick Michael Hillyard – Goalkeeper – Houston, Texas – Cinco Ranch High School – Texas 6A 1st Team All-State Goalkeeper. Played for Albion Hurricanes FC.
Grant Makela – Goalkeeper – Destin, Florida – Fort Walton Beach High School – Played for the Gulf Coast Texans. Florida State ODP Team.
Garrett McLaughlin – Forward – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Heritage Hall High School – 2015 Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year. Member ODP Region 3 Team. Played for Oklahoma FC.
Eddie Munjoma – Defender – Dallas, Texas – Plays for FC Dallas Development. Played in multiple reserve team matches with FC Dallas.
Philip Ponder – Defender – Dallas, Texas – Plays with FC Dallas Development Academy. Played in multiple reserve team matches with FC Dallas.
Dwight Williams Jr. – Midfielder – Dallas, Texas – Played for U-18 Solar Chelsea Academy Team. Member of the U-15 and U-17 Youth National Teams. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number 55 recruit in the class of 2015.
Tosh Yasuda – Midfielder – Las Cruces, New Mexico – Ranked by College Soccer News as the number 23 player in the class of 2015. Played for FC Dallas.
Progonis for 2016 – SMU took a huge step forward in Kevin Hudson's first year at the helm in 2015. The question is what will Hudson and the Mustangs do for an encore in 2016.
It appears that Hudson, who served as an assistant coach for eight seasons and was a former standout as a player at SMU, is beginning to write a new chapter at SMU. Chances are pretty good that an SMU program that won fifteen games last year will be even better in 2016 with a solid group of players including nine starters slated to return. In addition an impressive 2016 recruiting class will be on board for Hudson's second season as the SMU head coach. The experience a relatively young Mustang team gained last year should pay dividends in 2016.
Forward Mauro Cichero (10g, 9a) is an excellent finisher who gives the Mustangs a legitimate go-to guy. However he will not have to do it alone. Cichero should have plenty of help on the offensive side of the ball particularly if Emil Cuello, Caleb Smith, and Christian Boorom experience the sophomore leap.
Both midfielder John Lujano and defender Jacob Speed will be missed but a lot of very eager talent and experience returns in the midfield and in the back so don't expect a drop off. In addition, Michael Nelson who has two-years of starting experience under his belt can hold his own in goal with anyone in the country.
SMU should be in the thick of the AAC title race again in 2016 and the potential exists if everything falls into place for a deep run in the NCAA Tourney. The key may be team chemistry as depth and talent should not be a problem.