Rio Grande Valley FC will arrive at the halfway point of its United Soccer League (USL) season when it completes tomorrow night’s game against Orange County FC at H-E-B Park in Edinburg. Through 15 games of their 32 game schedule, they are 6-7-2 (20 points) and sit two places outside the final playoff spot in 10th place in the Western Conference.
It is time to take a mid-season look at what the Toros have accomplished to this point and what lies ahead.
First Half Observations:
Season Highlight Match: RGV FC-3 OKC Energy-0 (April 29th)
“We see this performance as something to build off.” Midfielder Eric Bird said this in the game story after this match on the USL website. After the dominating performance against the Energy, it was hard not to be optimistic. Eric Bird ran onto a perfect pass from Dynamo loan midfielder Joe Holland to score the opening goal in the 8th minute. Holland then scored his first goal as a professional in the 38th minute. Another Dynamo loanee, Jose Escalante, put the game away when he scored midway through the second half. Most impressively, 8 of their 9 shots were on target. The Toros defense was well organized and OKC was able to only put 1 of its 13 shots on goal.
This performance came on the heels of a slow and inconsistent start to the season, including a disappointing home loss to Tulsa the weekend before. A week later RGV FC beat Swope Park and was then on a streak of 3 wins in 4 matches. Things were looking up at that time.
Most Disappointing Match: RGV FC-0 LA Galaxy 2 (Los Dos)-1 (June 17th)
It would very easy to pick the two blow-out losses the Toros suffered in Sacramento and Kansas City for this “honor”. The home loss to Galaxy 2 sticks out as the most disappointing in my estimation. The Toros played Los Dos twice at home in less than a month. The first match resulted in a 1-1 draw where RGV FC gave up a second half goal to surrender the early lead built from Kyle Murphy’s 36th minute goal. So Toros fans were looking for payback a few weeks later when Los Dos returned. What the record crowd for a USL match at H-E-B Park of 8,656 saw instead was a 1-0 loss on a bad giveaway that allowed 16-year-old Jonah Estrada to score his first ever professional goal. On the other end, 445 passes and 60% of the possession turned into a grand total of 2 shots on goal by the Toros.
This match was a bad send off for the three game road trip coming next. Though the Toros were able to pull out an impressive win against Colorado Springs, a week after the Switchbacks had ended San Antonio’s season opening undefeated streak, they also suffered two humiliating losses, 6-2 in Sacramento and 4-0 to Swope Park to return home on a real down note.
Player who has impressed me the most this year: Kai Greene (outside back)
Greene has really stepped up his game in 2017 and he certainly doesn’t lack for confidence. “I feel like I’m the best one-on-one defender in the league, to be honest.” A USL Team of the Week place earlier in the year is proof that others are recognizing his quality too.
The link below is a profile on Greene published on May 19 in McAllen’s The Monitor by Greg Luca (quote above is from this article):
Charlie Ward Promoted to Dynamo:
On June 30th the Houston Dynamo announced that midfield iron-man Charlie Ward had signed an MLS contract and would join the Dynamo roster, becoming the 6th Toro to be promoted to the Dynamo in the short history of RGV FC. Despite his move to Houston, the Toros have likely not seen the last of Ward, who likely will join the Toros regularly on loan when the Dynamo players currently involved in the CONCACAF Gold Cup return.
Dynamo and former Toros head coach Wilmer Cabrera explained why Ward had been added to the roster in comments in a Dynamo Press Release earlier this month:
“Throughout the six months he has played there and every time he comes and join us, he proves that he has enough quality to be part of the Houston Dynamo. After the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup games that he played here he earned the right to be here because what he has shown in the field and what he has brought to the team,” Cabrera said. “We are happy to bring him, we here happy that he has earned the right to be with the first-team.”
First-Half Statistical Notes:
- Ivan Magalhaes is the only player who has started all 15 matches and leads the team with 1,350 minutes-playing every minute of every match. Not surprisingly, Magalhaes leads the team in the majority of defensive statistical categories.
- Memo Rodriquez and Ruben Luna lead the team with 3 goals each. Rodriquez, who scored all his goals in a single match, is not likely to be returning to RGV FC anytime soon as he is now a regular in the Dynamo game day lineup. Eric Bird and Todd Murphy have two goals apiece. The team sits in 24th place in the league with only 17 total goals…only 3 more than league leader Romario Williams from Charleston has scored himself.
- Emilio Garcia, on loan from Pachuca, and Todd Wharton lead the team with two assists.
- RGV FC is near the bottom (28th out of 30) of the league in total shots (145) but tied for 13th in conversion rate (14%).
- Garcia leads with 16 chances created, despite only appearing in 11 games.
- Borja Angoitia, who has played 8 of the 15 matches, leads with 16 saves. Dynamo loanee Calle Brown has one more shutout (3) than Angoitia. Because Angoitia was in the net for the Sacramento and Swope losses, he has conceded 14 of the 20 goals the team has conceded this year.
- Jorginho James and Todd Wharton each have 4 yellow cards. Both are on Accumulation Warnings and will be suspended for the next yellow card. Victor Garza received the only red card of the year early in the season. Interestingly forward Ruben Luna has conceded the most fouls this year (28).
Second Half Preview:
Home: 8 Away: 9
The season resumes with back-to-back home and away matches against Orange County SC, tomorrow night in Edinburg and Saturday in Southern California. OC is 2 points back of the Toros, but have only played 12 games so far…the fewest in the league.
Longest home-stand: 2 games (twice)-August 12 and 19 and Sept. 9 and 16th.
Longest road stretch: 3 games-July 29 through August 6 in the Pacific Northwest.
USL Texas Derby matches: 2 games in the final 4 weeks of season (including the regular season finale)…both in San Antonio.
The challenging remaining schedule includes 4 matches against Western Conference leaders Real Monarchs SLC and San Antonio FC.
The young Columbian attacker has been the most exciting Toro player when he has been on the field this year. Unfortunately, injuries have held him back and he has only played in 5 games. I will welcome seeing a lot more of him in the second half of the season.
Jose Escalante/Christian Lucatero:
Another young Latin American attacking player (from Honduras), Jose Escalante, has had limited impact this season. Like fellow Toro and Dynamo Academy graduate Christian Lucatero, Escalante is at RGV FC on loan and doesn’t count against the Dynamo’s international roster slots. Since Houston now has a full complement of international players, with the acquisition of young DP Tomas Martinez earlier this week, I suspect this means Escalante will be with the Toros for the remainder of the year. Neither Escalante or Lucatero have been as impactful as Dynamo/Toro fans in general would like to see at RGV. Escalante has played significant minutes in 11 games but only has 1 goal and 0 assists. He has shown glimpses, making 8 key passes that have not been finished and almost scoring a blistering goal from long distance in Oklahoma that would have been a strong contender for USL Goal of the Year if it had gone in. Lucatero, on the other hand doesn’t get on the field very often. He has only played 180 minutes so far this year with 0 goals, but he is still very young and being brought along at a pace the Dynamo and Toro head coach Junior Gonzalez must feel is appropriate. Patience is required. That said, more should be expected from both of these highly regarded future Dynamo players and I hope we see it in the second half.
8 teams qualify for the playoffs in the Western Conference. As was proven last year, what happens after the USL playoffs start is a roll of the dice. The top three seeds, including RGV FC, lost opening round games in 2016, leaving 4th seed Swope Park a clear path to the USL Championship game. Whether the Toros will now begin to make a run into the playoffs is an open question. The team is only 2 points out of the 8th playoff slot, but also only 5 points from 14th place.
Real Monarchs, SAFC and Swope Park appear to be well on their way to securing the top 3 slots in the West. Only Portland Timbers 2 appear to be completely out of the running for the playoffs. Otherwise the remaining 11 Western Conference teams are separated by only 11 points. The math for the remaining 5 slots is complicated by the fact that the number of games played so far by playoff hopefuls ranges from 12, earlier highlighted for Orange County, to 19. On a points per game basis, RGV FC would be in the playoffs, but the games have to be played and results achieved.
It is hard to tell what we will see out of the Toros for the remainder of the year because the team has been so inconsistent. The attendance has been excellent this year in the beautiful new stadium. Hopefully a run to the playoffs will galvanize even more support in the Valley for this new team. My earlier article (with a number of photos) detailing my visit to the new stadium is in the link below:
This is about the time of the season when the Toros went 8 consecutive games without allowing a goal last year. Now would be the time to get this rolling again if the playoffs are to happen.
Below is a link to RGV FC’s Midseason Marks by Carson Merk in the The Bull and Its Horns on SB Nation’s Dynamo Theory site. Carson covers the team on a routine basis as closely as anybody else and is a good source of Toros knowledge.