Simply put, the second campaign for RGVFC was substantially less successful than the inaugural one. One year after finishing second in the USL’s Western Conference and breaking the league’s shutout streak record, the club missed the playoffs, ending up 11th in the West.
The club dealt with massive turnover, losing some stars of the 2016 team, including head coach Wilmer Cabrera. I had the pleasure of recapping the 2017 season with his replacement, first year manager Junior Gonzalez.
Dynamo Theory: What did you discover are some of the biggest challenges about being a hybrid affiliate club?
Junior Gonzalez: The integration with the two technical staffs and players started great during preseason when the Dynamo trained for a week at our RGVFC facility. The challenge is when the season starts, to not be present in the same training facility, along with the difficulty of attending the first team home matches. The other challenge like any developmental MLS team is that you do not have the first team players that you play on the weekend integrated in your training environment throughout the entire week. Depending on the week, you may get the first team players one or two days before match day. As the season goes on, the relationships and transition becomes more seamless and easier.
DT: Is there a lot of communication between yourself and Wilmer Cabrera, on player performances and/or strategy?
JG: I speak to Wilmer once or twice a week about the first team, RGV player evaluations, playing style, and technical staff advice. I am also in daily contact with Matt Jordan, the Dynamo GM. I send a weekly technical report to the first team staff for each match along with a daily work load data from our fitness coach.
DT: As someone who has known Wilmer for years and worked with him at a few different stops, what allows him to be such a successful manager?
JG: The obvious one is that he has been able to take his experience as a world class professional player and relay them in a teaching environment to his players. It is a consistent message to everyone from the support staff, technical staff, and players in the locker room that no one can be too comfortable. This is a characteristic that he has been able to implement in the training environment to keep pushing and improving on a daily basis. The understanding of collective defensive tactics and how to implement dangerous counter attacking soccer is obvious in the results of both RGVFC last season and the Houston Dynamo first team this season.
DT: How big of an advantage does H-E-B Park give the Toros?
JG: It is a major advantage playing in H-E-B Park, especially with the caliber of fans in the Valley. The Stampede marching into the stadium during our warm ups and the constant drumming and cheering throughout the match is amazing. Unfortunately, we did not demonstrate competitive dominance over teams on our home field this season. It is no secret that it is extremely important to win your home games in order to have a successful season and playoff seed. This is something that we don’t take lightly as a staff, and we will work hard to change next season.
DT: What are some of the things you feel you can personally improve on heading into next season?
JG: It is my responsibility to clearly evaluate my performance as a manager throughout this season and also take the constructive criticism from our first team technical staff. The aspects from a technical side that stand out in my own evaluation of our teams performance is our consistency implementing our defensive tactical approach to the game. Early in the season, we were on the right track not allowing goals, staying compact, and keeping more of the ball on the attacking side which allowed us to dictate the rhythm of the match. In the middle to end of the season, we dropped off and were allowing more goals and in crucial parts of the match. The mental approach to the game will be more of a focus moving forward and working more on situational play, scoring the second goal, closing the game out, finishing games off without conceding to win more matches as opposed to allowing for late equalizers, and starting matches in a more dominant fashion.
The player management and more of a consistent dialogue with in house and first team players that are in our environment is an area that I also look to improve on for the next season as well. This will be my first opportunity as a Head Coach to build a USL roster with my technical staff, continuing the Houston Dynamo/RGVFC project. The focus will be to build a roster that is consistent with our first team player characteristics and implement an organized attacking playing style that will allow us to get back to the playoffs along with developing players for the first team.
DT: In your opinion, what were some of the bright spots for the club this year?
JG: I think, first and foremost, is being a part of a team that experienced the opening of H-E-B park. What this has done for the Rio Grande Valley and our Toros Developmental Academy is unbelievable. It demonstrates that the young players that are from the Valley have a tangible pathway to the professional level in our sport. It has also given the local community a great opportunity to come watch future Dynamo first team players on a consistent basis for an affordable price. In focusing more on the process than results, I think the amount of RGV FC players that competed in the US Open Cup with the Houston Dynamo this summer was a big success for our club. Although it was hard losing Charlie Ward from our everyday environment, we are happy that he was able to be signed to the first team mid season. Overall from my prospective, I was able to see the development of players that are in our environment throughout the season that have an honest chance to make the Dynamo first team next season.
DT: What would be your message to the RGVFC fans all over the Valley?
JG: Thank you for your loyal support throughout a very difficult season. In each and every day of the offseason, our staff will be working to build a quality team, that will compete for the Western Conference Championship and play an organized attacking brand of soccer.