Successful Business Trip
After a long homestand through July and part of August, RGVFC traveled twice this week. On Thursday, they faced off with the Western Conference’s last place team, the Tulsa Roughnecks. Despite a competitive first half, the team’s went to the break scoreless, thanks to some great goalkeeping from Alex Mangels and Calle Brown, on loan from the Houston Dynamo. That didn’t last long, for the Toros that is. The first goal came on a penalty kick awarded after Tulsa’s keeper undercut Ruben Luna in the box. Emilio Garcia knocked it home, to tie Memo Rodriguez for the team lead, with six. Luna was able to get himself on the scoreline, when he followed up his own shot being deflected by tapping one in past the keeper. Dzenan Catic put the Toros up 3-0, when he put home a rebound, after Memo had a shot cleared off the line by a Tulsa defender. Another deflection goal came next when Eric Bird sent a redirected ball in on the volley. To close the scoring, Catic flipped a ball over the keeper after the ball had been misplayed a bit on the backline. It was RGVFC’s first win in three matches against Tulsa, followed a season opening 2-0 loss, and a 0-0 draw earlier this summer.
Sunday, they faced a new opponent, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. A top team in the Western Conference as well, it was expected to be a test for both sides. It lived up to that billing. The pace started off a bit quicker than usual for the Toros, and both chances had good movement early. Then, in the fifth minute, a perfect switch from Charlie Ward to Jose Escalante, led to a lovely cross into Ruben Luna. Luna held off the defender, turned and slipped a shot past the keeper to the far post. Just a little over ten minutes later, things got weird. First a shot from Colorado Springs was cleared off the line by a leaping George Malki. The Switchbacks sent the ball back in, and forced Tyler Deric, on loan from Houston to get into game shape after injuries, into a close range save. In the aftermath, Deric stayed down and appeared to have injured his left elbow. Enter Toro’s primary keeper Callum Irving in the 18’ minute. Not long after subbing on, Irving was also forced into an elite level save. Diving to his right, he not only stopped the ball at point blank range, but caught it to prevent a follow up attempt by Switchbacks FC. By this point, the game had already become a bit chippy. Jorginho James, the team’s most physical player, drew a yellow for a rough contest on a throw in. He got tangled up a few times with Rony Argueta, and the match was starting to get a little tense. In stoppage time in the second half, Argueta went in spikes up on James, making minimal contact, but was given an immediate red card due to the nature of the challenge.
The second half was very evenly matched, even with Rio Grande Valley being up a man. Switchbacks FC made timely last second stops, and continued pushing the ball forward. The scoreline stayed 1-0 until into the 7 minutes of stoppage time. That’s when Dzenan Catic scored another goal as a substitute, his third in two games. After a great show of skill by Memo, he dropped the ball to Catic, bouncing one off the keeper before blasting the rebound into the back of the net. This match was a great test for the Toros, who proved they can hang with, and beat, any team put in front of them. It was their 8th straight shutout, and third straight win.
Ballin’ Bulls: Top Three Toros from last week
Dynamo Theory’s Man of the Matches Ruben Luna: The midseason acquisition has made his presence felt lately, with three goals in three straight matches. He provides the Toros something they’ve lacked most of the year, a striker who can use his strength to hold up play, and finish in tight windows.
Dzenan Catic: A super sub in both matches last week, Catic tallied three goals, and has returned well from his concussion earlier this season. His size, and finishing ability is tough to deal with late in matches when the defense is tired.
Charlie Ward: It was an average week at the office for Clockwork Charlie. His usual week’s are just well above that of a normal player. He played every second, just like every other match this year, and controlled the midfield with his distribution, and willingness to defend. His pinpoint switches of the pitch directly resulted in RGVFC creating multiple dangerous chances, including a goal or two.
Callum Irving on how he was able to perform that well in surprise sub duty:
“For a goalkeeper, sometimes it's better to just go in without having to think about it or put any pressure on yourself. The coaching staff and my teammates also showed their belief in me and made me feel comfortable. I just wanted to go out there and help the guys as much as I could, and they made my job easy.”
Charlie Ward on how tight knit the locker room is for the Toros:
“We are close as a team as it is, we all want the best for each other. I'm probably the worst moaner in the team, but when we leave the pitch we say sorry and move on. Because we are team mates on and off the field, these boys will be my friends for a long time. That is also what makes me so happy about this team, back home it is a lot different. It's dog eat dog, but here everyone wants each other to push on with their careers and with this team. So it is honestly a pleasure to be a part of this team, and we’re not happy yet. We want to win the league!”
Ivan Magalhaes explains the key to the Toros 8 straight clean sheets:
“The biggest key, I think, is that we keep playing as a team. We all attack and we all defend together, that makes everyone's job easier and at the same time it is tougher for the opponents.”
The Good Guys: Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (10-5-9)
There is no team hotter in the USL than RGVFC. They have not lost a match, or given up a goal since late June. According to the USL, the Toros now hold the record for longest shutout streak. It’s been a continued domination of possession every match, factored in with more chances being taken in the final third. The forwards have been quicker to let shots go, allowing for 7 goals in last week’s two matches alone. The partnership of Charlie Ward and Jorginho James in the midfield has been special to watch, and is the foundation of the Toros shape. The backline of Hunter, Malki, Magalhaes, and Garcia has done a great job limited the chances the keepers face. And on the occasion that a ball gets past them, Callum Irving, Calle Brown, and briefly Tyler Deric swallow them up. No team could possibly want to face a team that is so strong defensively, but also controls possession and creates chances offensively come playoff time. Speaking of the postseason, the Toros find themselves in sole possession of third place in the Western Conference for now. They are also third in the latest USL weekly Top 10 Power Rankings. Dzenan Catic and Callum Irvin are representing red-hot Rio Grande Valley on this week’s USL Team of the Week. It’s a first for Catic, and the second time Callum has been the goalkeeper of the week.
The Bad Guys: Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (10-7-7)
In the first matchup between the team’s, Colorado Springs showed they are the real deal. Despite losing 2-0, they played great soccer endline to endline, with only 10 men in the second half. They have great goalkeeping, and made countless last second tackles to prevent shots or crosses from RGVFC. They host OKC Energy FC tonight, before making the trip down to South Texas, and they will look to keep some gas in their tank to avenge last week’s loss. The teams were both very physical with one another, and things got heated on multiple occasions, including the sending off of Argueta. You can assume Saturday’s matchup will not disappoint in any fashion.