Last week the Toros played their 10th game of the 30 scheduled USL regular season matches. Here's my progress report, not of the team, but of the players, and their prospects for minutes with the Houston Dynamo. Next week I will chat with head coach Wilmer Cabrera on the team's progress, his expectations and much more! I grouped the roster into three categories: Top Flight for the players who are playing at an elite level and could be on the Dynamo's radar, Keep On Truckin' for the players who have been good but not quite enough to the level of elite yet, and Jury's Still Out for those who have either not played significant minutes, or have yet to make a big enough impression to move into the top two categories.
I did not include Dynamo matchday loanees, but those players: Zach Steinberger, Calle Brown, Bradley Bourgeois, Mauro Manotas, Collen Warner, Sebastien Ibeagha, and Rob Lovejoy have been huge boosts to the club in their appearances. From those I've spoken to, they have enjoyed their time with the USL side and have nothing but great things to say about the staff and fans.
Defender Kevin Garcia: The Toros' captain is the undoubted leader of the young club. He is very calm with the ball at his feet, communicates well, and is rarely out of position. Garcia earned some first team training earlier this year, and even without elite athleticism, is an interesting prospect for the Dynamo
Midfielder Charlie Ward: Ward is the engine behind the Toros' attack. He is a superb passer in the midfield, distribution wise, as well as the skillful way he delivers the ball. He is a very willing defender, and is not afraid to be physical in the middle of the park as need be. The former Aston Villa and Stoke City youth product has to be a player the Dynamo are tracking intently, as he provides so many great physical qualities, as well as a strong desire to be the best player and teammate at all times.
Forward Jose Escalante: The Honduran international has been electric this season for the Toros. While his two goals and one assist don't blow you away, it's his immeasurable on the game that is eye opening. He is a pacey, aggressive attacker who does not shy away from taking on defenders. He continuously pushes the attack and creates chances. He does lead the team in shots, with 24, but only 9 have been on target. Escalante will need to be more efficient with his strikes, but his natural ability and play style are guaranteed to intrigue the Dynamo, already enough to earn some first team training alongside Kevin Garcia earlier this year.
Midfielder Memo Rodriguez: After a season long loan in the USL with Charleston last year, Memo has taken a huge next step with the additional minutes he's receiving. He currently leads the team in points with 7, and a tie with Dynamo loanee Rob Lovejoy for the goal lead with 3. A positive and a slight drawback for Rodriguez is his lack of fear of firing a shot from distance. He is accurate for the most part, and that will create more goals going forward. On the other side, sometimes he could instead find a teammate with a better angle and easier shot. As he continues to get physically stronger, the Dynamo Homegrown product may push for some first team looks.
Midfielder TJ Casner: The USL's leader in assists, Casner has found a knack for the final necessary pass to spring a teammate for a shot on goal. The rookie from Clemson is a very willing passer in the final third, and also does a great job of driving the ball forward from the midfield to the attack. He moves well and is sharp on the ball, but also physical enough to hold up the ball when it's needed. With Chaco Maidana not providing his expected unlocking passes, maybe Houston gives Casner a shot in that role.
Keep On Truckin':
GK Devin Perales: He is the primary non-Dynamo loanee goalkeeper for the club. In his five starts, he has one clean sheet and is allowing a little over one goal per match. Perales saves the ones he's supposed to, but hasn't really made a save on a shot that should be a goal. He will need to have more scoreless performances as the season goes on.
Midfielder Jorginho James: The Jamaican international is as strong as advertised in the midfield. Currently in the lead on the club in yellow cards, James is not afraid to get physical and attempt to win possession for RGVFC with a slide tackle. He is a perfect compliment to the offensive distributor in the midfield, Charlie Ward. James is very athletic and lately has begun to push the ball forward more when it's at his feet. You can't teach his size or physicality, he will just need to continue to harness it, and to continue improving his passing and possession on offense.
Defender George Malki: Gorgeous George has been very steady this campaign for the Toros. He's a solid defender, and also is one of the top players from the backline who builds the attack as well. He scored a goal early in the season and is a key player to the club dynamic.
Defender Ivan Magalhaes: The top draft pick for Houston in this year's Superdraft, Magalhaes has done well in his game action this year. He is very athletic on the backline and is able to counter any small positioning flaws he puts himself into with that athleticism. He sometimes lacks the aggressive first move to close down distance between himself and the attacking player, but that is something that will come with confidence as he gets more match time.
Defender Kai Greene: Greene is the consensus fastest player on RGVFC. He is strong defensively and pushes forward to help build the attack often. I'd like to see him be more effective when he is on the offensive side of things, create more chances or distribute a little bit better. I predict he will head in a corner kick at some point this season with his ridiculous leaping ability.
Midfielder Emilio Garcia: The Mexican international has been a spark plug for the Toros and has scored two goals in 8 matches, mostly appearing as a substitute. Garcia has good pace and is crafty on the ball, also bringing a high work rate to the midfield.
Jury's Still Out:
GK Arturo Sanchez: Has not appeared in a match for the Toros.
GK Callum Irving: He has appeared in one match for the Toros, starting against Saint Louis FC. He made two saves, and allowed a goal that most, if not all keepers would have allowed as well.
Defender Taylor Hunter: The 2015 Dynamo draft pick has appeared in three matches so far and has totaled 99 minutes. He hasn't been too noticeable in his limited time for RGVFC, which for a defender, is not always a bad thing.
Forward Juan "Charly" Flores: The young Dynamo Academy product has appeared for only 14 minutes over two matches. It will be intriguing to see if he earns more minutes, as the season progresses.
Midfielder Christian Lucatero: He was the hardest player to categorize on this roster. He has played very limited minutes, but has been nothing short of outstanding in that time. I mean, the kid had 2 assists in 5 minutes of action in a game. The only reason I placed him here is because while he has been great, there's obviously a reason his minutes are so limited, likely just age and experience, but he needs to get a bigger body of work to move up. I assume as the season wears on, the more action he will see, and we will have a better reading on the Dynamo prodigy's development.
Midfielder Todd Wharton: He appeared in two matches for limited minutes and is out after having foot surgery
Midfielder Eric Bird: Wharton's college teammate has only appeared in two matches, and tallied three shots and a yellow card.
Defender Leo Ayala: A Dynamo Academy product, Ayala has only appeared in two matches, getting an assist in his 80 minute shift against San Antonio FC.
Forward Dzenan Catic: Before suffering a head injury in early May against SAFC, Catic was able to outscore his entire 2015 USL campaign by putting home a penalty kick against Portland Timbers FC II.
Forward Kyle Murphy: The Clemson rookie has been getting the primary nod at the lone forward position if there is no Manotas on matchday. He is a strong, tall attacker but has only had 5 shots in 8 matches, none of which went on goal.