20 games into the 30 game regular season and the Toros find themselves right in the playoff picture out West. They are in the midst of a long home stand, and last month pounded Vancouver Whitecaps 2, the team that sits atop the Western Conference table.
As I did in the first 1/3 status check, I grouped the RGVFC roster into three categories: Top Flight for players who could be ready to contribute for the Houston Dynamo now, Keep On Truckin' for players who are contributing well at the USL level, but haven't showed MLS ready promise just yet, and Jury's Still Out for the players who either don't get enough time, or haven't made too big of an impact in their time. I'll also add a (+) for a player who is trending up, a (-) for one trending the opposite, and a (=) for a player who has stayed level. I also added a section, Look Who's Talking, where some players gave insight into their Toros teammates.
Midfielder Charlie Ward (+): Clockwork Charlie has played every second for the Toros this season. And not only has he been on the field, he's been instrumental all year. He connects the backline to the attacking corps with smooth passing and great vision. He's also a very willing defender. He recently was selected by the Dynamo to dress for their US Open Cup match against FC Dallas, and even though he didn't play, that's a good sign for the former Aston Villa and Stoke City youth player.
Forward Jose Escalante (-): Escalante was the most explosive player on the Toros' roster. But, it has been a month since we've seen the Honduran on the pitch for RGVFC. He was suspended four games by the league for allegedly spitting at an opponent in a post match skirmish, earning him a downward trend in my ratings. This week, he signed a loan deal that will keep him in Houston with the first team for the remainder of the season, but he may still appear in a Toros match or two in 2016.
Forward Memo Rodriguez (+): The Dynamo Homegrown product is the club's leading scorer, and after a brace against Vancouver, he earned USL Player of the Week. Rodriguez strikes the ball well from a lot of different areas, and is improving movement on and off the ball. If he continues to put numbers on the board, get stronger and more creative in the box, Memo could find himself on Houston's radar.
Defender Kevin Garcia (+): He is the Toros captain for a reason. A verbal leader, and steady defender, Garcia guides the ship for RGVFC. He will not blow people away with athleticism on the backline, but he is quicker than people realize. He distributes the ball well, and keeps the defense in proper position. He has earned multiple trips to train in Houston, and any team could use a talented leader like Kevin.
Midfielder TJ Casner (=): Still the team's leader in assists, Casner continues to unlock defenses in the final third. The rookie out of Clemson is creative on the ball, and has great vision even in crowded areas. He scored his first goal of the season in the Vancouver win, and also made his Dynamo debut in an Open Cup match earlier this summer.
Goalkeeper Callum Irving (+): Taking over primary goalkeeper duties after an injury to Devin Perales, Irving has been outstanding in the net for RGVFC. The Canadian national teamer is allowing under a goal per match. He constantly makes routine saves, but is not afraid of making a heroic one from time to time. He was outstanding against the Sacramento attack last weekend. With Tyler Deric, Joe Willis, and Calle Brown, it's not likely Irving will be pushing for minutes in Houston just yet. However, he has shown that he possesses elite skills and could make the move up to the MLS if the time comes.
Keep On Truckin'
Defender Ivan Magalhaes (+): The 2nd round pick for Houston this year, Magalhaes has constantly improved as his starting spot has solidified. He will have the occasional lapse, like handing a team two penalties in one match and being sent off, but for the most part, he's firm on the backline. His athleticism allows him to track the ball well and he is comfortable with the ball at his feet. Eliminating the judgement mistakes will propel Ivan to the next level of development.
Midfielder Eric Bird (+): Mostly as a reserve, Birdman scored in three straight games in June. He has provided some excitement and skill to the attack after battling through injuries early in the season. He has forced his way into the starting lineup a few times of late, and needs to create chances a bit more consistently to make it harder to sit him.
Defender Taylor Hunter (=): Another player who has found himself in the lineup more lately, Hunter is a very serviceable defender in the USL. He's not often caught out of position, and rarely loses a physical battle. As a defender, sometimes the less you're noticed, the better, as this is usually the case with Hunter, except for last week, when he was recognized as a USL Team of the Week defender.
Defender Kai Greene (=): The most athletically gifted player on the roster, Greene's impact isn't often found on the stat line. He pushes the offense forward with his runs down the flank, but doesn't often end it with a great cross or dangerous attack on goal. He usually distributes to a teammate and fades away. It would be great to see Kai get involved on set pieces more, and continue to hone his technical skills to match his elite physical prowess.
Midfielder Emilio Garcia (-): Emilio is a better sparkplug off the bench than he is a starter. His work rate is always high, but doesn't yield matching results. Before he scored in the Whitecaps win, he hadn't notched a goal or assist since May. His energy off the bench is great, and with that, he will sometimes find results. It'll be important for him to work to find those positive impact plays a bit more often, especially if he is in the starting lineup.
Midfielder Christian Lucatero (+): In the opportunities he gets, he's electric. He is very naturally gifted on the ball, and incredibly creative in the final third. He was selected to play in the Chipotle Homegrown Game last week on behalf of the Dynamo, and also was recalled from RGVFC to be with Houston last weekend. It is almost certain he continues to receive more starts and more minutes as the season pushes on as the main thing he needs to develop is more match time.
Defender George Malki (=): Malki has great pace coming from the backline and has used his skills to create some chances for the Toros attack. He does well to push the attack forward, but also provides timely defending. To propel himself to the next level, he'll need to turn some of those chances he creates into goals, whether that's with a shot or a cross.
Midfielder Jorginho James (+): The physical beast of the Toros lineup, James locks down the midfield with his no nonsense defending. He gets whistled for fouls more often than you'd like, but it's the cost of playing that rough to stop possession. He has improved lately on the ball, seemingly gaining more confidence, and has even put some strong shots on frame. He's a perfect complement to Charlie Ward in the midfield.
Jury's Still Out:
GK Devin Perales (-): The primary keeper to start the year, Perales recently returned from an injury, and hasn't yet got a start since returning to training.
GK Arturo Sanchez (=): Sanchez has not appeared for RGVFC in a match.
Midfielder Eric Verso (=): A midseason addition, Verso hasn't had too much playing time to showcase the dime dropping skills he was known for at Stanford alongside Jordan Morris. It's to be determined if Verso will grab more minutes as the season goes on.
Forward Ruben Luna (=): Another late signing, Luna was brought on to provide some punch to the Toros scoring. He has been featured in a few times since his signing, and is sure to be a consistent option at a striker position the club has drastically needed production from.
Forward Juan "Charly" Flores (+): The young Dynamo Academy product has played sparingly so far this season. While he hasn't made too much of an impact, he has started to appear in more matches of late. This season is not one where Flores was expected to start and lead the club in scoring, but instead, it was one where he can adjust to live as a professional, train and learn from the veterans, and get some professional game action. I'd expect more Flores as the season continues, and his mindset has been perfect in what could be a frustrating position.
Defender Leo Ayala (=): Ayala, another Dynamo Academy product, has appeared in only four matches this season. But in his time on the pitch, he's been very effective and energetic, even grabbing an assist.
Forward Kyle Murphy (=): Productivity is the reason for Murphy being in this classification. In 16 matches this season as the lone striker, Kyle Murphy has only 2 goals. That's certainly not for a lack of talent, or even work rate. It's just that he hasn't found the net. That top man in the formation has been a weakness, and after getting a chance to lock it up himself, Murphy has been in and out of the starting XI. If the talent meets the results, Murphy could springboard up this list.
Forward Dzenan Catic (-): The first choice forward to start the season, Catic went out with a head injury in May, and has not played in a match since. He had one goal on the campaign, a penalty against Portland Timbers 2 in April.
Look Who's Talking!
Charlie Ward on Christian Lucatero and how bright his future could be:
"Luca is a great player. He has a great left foot and has a great ability to drift past players. I think he's learning all different aspects of the game and knowing that's it's not always about when you have the ball, it's off the ball that matters as well. He's still young so he has time to learn and develop and as long as he keeps listening to the staff and the advice they give I'm sure he will have a bright future.I hope he can help us to push on in the last 19 games and be a bright spark for us."
Memo Rodriguez on what makes TJ Casner such a great passer:
"He finds the right pockets to drift into, finds the right pass to give, and makes good decisions to give us a chance to score goals"
Kevin Garcia on how confident the defense can play with Callum Irving behind them:
"He's been coming up big for us in tight games. His confidence is growing, and there's nothing better than playing with a confident keeper. We know we can count on him."
Callum Irving on what makes Kevin Garcia such a great leader on the backline:
"I think what makes Kevin such a great leader on the backline is his confidence and consistency. He's not only a big presence in the air, but also on the ground with his feet. Week in, week out he produces for us and because of that we can all trust in him to organize and motivate us for gameday."
Jorginho James on getting to be paired up with Charlie Ward in the midfield:
"It's great to be playing with Charlie, a smart technical player who loves the game. We are enjoying each other in the middle of the park. We are the engine room and I think we compliment each other well. He's got a good IQ for the game and it's great playing with him."