The 2017 United Soccer League (USL) schedule opens for the Texas teams this Sunday at 6 p.m. when San Antonio FC (SAFC) travels to Edinburg to play Rio Grande Valley FC (RGVFC) Toros at H-E-B Park.
These teams will play each other 3 times in the 2017 regular season, with the final two occurring in the last four weeks of the season at Toyota Field in San Antonio.
Last year (the inaugural USL seasons for both teams) the Toros and SAFC played four times: RGVFC won both matches played in Edinburg and won and drew the other two played in San Antonio.
RGVFC finished in second place in the 2016 regular season and unfortunately lost their quarterfinal playoff game 3-2 to Swope Park Rangers last October. SAFC had playoff aspirations up to the last weekend, but fell just short.
It is extremely difficult to predict from one year to the next who will be the top teams in the league. Roster turnover during the off-season, the short term loans of MLS roster players to their USL clubs during the season, lack of a formal salary cap and overall in- season roster churn are a few of the reasons contributing to this prediction challenge. Many of these issues are true for all professional leagues, but the lack of stability makes the issue even more complicated in USL. The fact that RGVFC was able to finish in second place with a roster built from scratch (admittedly with help from the Dynamo), immediately prior to the start of the 2016 season, is a perfect example of the folly in making predictions.
This challenge aside, both RGVFC and SAFC seem to have assembled competitive rosters this year, with a fair amount of carryover from year to year. SAFC has five returnees in their projected starting lineup and RGVFC has eight.
The most significant USL rule change for the 2017 season is that teams will now be allowed three substitutions per game vs. the five allowed in the 2016 season. This will bring USL into line with the rest of FIFA on the substitution rule. In announcing the change earlier this year, USL commented that the extra substitutes were a legacy player safety measure resulting from old USL travel schedules and the need to play games with short rest.
Season preview from Nicholas Murray of usl.com
Head Coach: Darren Powell (second season)
Projected starting lineup
(based on the starting lineups for the final two preseason games):
Position Last Year’s Club
Goalkeeper Matt Cardone (SAFC)
Left back: Greg Cochrane (SAFC)
Center back Sebastian Ibeagha (Houston Dynamo)
Center back Cyprian Hedrick (Oklahoma City-USL)
Right Back Ben Newnan (Louisville City FC-USL)
Midfielder Pecka (Rayo OKC-NASL)
Midfielder AJ Ajeakwa (Orange County-USL)
Midfielder Michael Reed (SAFC)
Midfielder Billy Forbes (Rayo OKC-NASL)
Midfielder Rafa Castillo (SAFC)
Forward: Cesar Elizondo (SAFC)
The biggest loss from last season is midfielder Carlos Alvarez, who was SAFC’s first signing when they joined the league last year. Alvarez has joined the 2018 MLS expansion franchise Los Angeles FC and will play on loan with their USL affiliate club in Orange County, California.
Season preview from Nicholas Murray at usl.com:
Head Coach: Junior Gonzalez (first season)
Projected starting lineup
(Based on starting lineup vs. FC Monterrey and a post from Bleacher Report-Dynamo Theory’s Carson A. Merk)
Position Last Year Club
Goalkeeper Borja Angoitia (SD Amorebieta, Spain)
Left back: Victor Garza (Tampico Madero FC, Mexico-loan from Tigres UANL)
Center back Ivan Magalhaes (RGVFC)
Center back Kai Greene (RGVFC)
Right Back Robby Sagel (2017 Dynamo draft pick)
Midfielder Charlie Ward (RGVFC)
Midfielder Eric Bird (RGVFC)
Midfielder Emilio Garcia (RGVFC)
Midfielder Kyle Murphy (RGVFC)
Midfielder TJ Casner (RGVFC)
Forward: Ruben Luna (RGVFC)
The biggest loss from last season are the two goalkeepers who played the majority of the minutes: Callum Irving and Devin Perales. Additionally, Coach Wilmer Cabrera left to take over the reigns at Houston and three of his former players defenders Taylor Hunter and George Malki and midfielder Memo Rodriquez also signed MLS contracts with the Dynamo recently. Hunter, Memo and two other RGVFC alumni who were signed by the Dynamo last year, Kevin Garcia and Jose Escalante, could still return to Edinburg on loan stints this year.