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The SMU now-you-see-it-now-you-don't style of play, plus that physicality, has sometimes caused Mustang opponents to go slightly berserk. In an SMU game earlier last week with Midwest rival Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville—a perennial soccer power, ranked fourth this season—the score was deadlocked 1-1 after two overtimes. There followed a brawl.
Someone slugged someone, and someone retaliated. A bench-clearing melee resulted, with fans included. The affair is reported to be under NCAA scrutiny.
"Some dude hit me," says Phillips with a smile, "so I grabbed a piece of chin and hit it."
"I never want to go back to Edwardsville," says Benedek. "My God, it was like a riot in Europe. Can you imagine? The crowd, all those nice moms and dads, were throwing their drinks on me and cursing. I never heard such language! It was like Roller Derby."
Although Texas plays club soccer, lacking NCAA status, last Saturday's game was critical for SMU. Texas is a member of the Southwest Conference, and a convincing win would help secure a bye for the Mustangs in the first round of the playoffs. More important, the bye would give the Mustangs the home-field advantage in the second round, when they would probably face the winner of the SIU-St. Louis University match. Those teams are strong at home.
Indignant after getting a look at the field they would be playing on against Texas—a rock-hard patch of dirt tufted with cleat-snaring little hillocks of long grass—the Mustangs were further annoyed when they discovered they had been stuffed into a tiny locker room in the Longhorns' multimillion-dollar athletic center. The room was about large enough for a Ping-Pong game. The final straw was no towels. Phillips scratched his head. "They're being unfriendly," he said. "They need a lesson."
But missing their star sweeper, Iranian Said Baghvardani, and two other regulars because of injuries, SMU came close to blowing Saturday's game. Under a sky that threatened icy rain and in temperatures that hovered in the low 40s, the Mustangs seemed aimless as play began. They tripped on the grass and slipped on the hardpan. They did manage to produce two quick goals, both by their scoring ace, Forward Jeff Culver. But awed by that achievement, or exhausted by it, they wallowed around before the tiny but vocal hometown crowd of 100 or so souls who hadn't gone off to Houston for the football game. Late in the first half, two Longhorns went up with Phillips for a crossing shot, collided heavily with him, knocked the ball loose from his arms and watched it roll across the line.
Tied with Texas. The disgust was plain on Phillips' face. They won't give you towels; SMU's soccer budget is so pinched that players sleep four to a double room on the road; a lot of students don't even know SMU has a soccer team; you're third in the nation and nobody cares. It was all too much.
But then, SMU began to gather steam. Phillips made a dazzling save, flipping his body quickly sideways to stop a shot from 15 feet. With 10 minutes left in the game Culver neatly faked the Texas keeper to register a hat trick.