The debate concerning the future of soccer in the United States is not anywhere near settled. However, the game has seen unprecedented growth in the past decade and the USL has created a space for that growth, providing more opportunities for talented players to play at the professional level in the United States.
In 2011, just 12 teams participated, six teams in each conference. In 2018, 33 teams are competing for the USL Cup, 16 in the Eastern Conference and 17 in the Western Conference.
If you have not yet jumped onto the USL ship, now is the time to find your team. The USL is home to some of the most passionate, vibrant and informed fan bases in US sport. The undeniable appeal of the USL has brought money, resources, stadiums, coaches and players to soccer communities that have been pushed out of the picture for years, perhaps decades.
But with new teams appearing each season, it can be difficult to keep up. Resident USL Expert, Busby Cagle, is here to help. Each week, Busby will spotlight one USL club, looking at the history of the club, the players, the fans, and the prospect of success in the near or distant future.
Rio Grande Valley F.C.
Home Ground: H-E-B Park; Edinburg, Texas
Manager: Gerson Echeverry
2017 Finish: 11th, Western Conference
The 2018 USL season will be opening on Friday at H-E-B Park, where the Toros will play host to Saint Louis FC. The Houston Dynamo affiliate languished near the bottom of the Western Conference table for nearly all of last season and will be hoping to get off on the right foot to start the new year.
RGV are looking to rebound from a disappointing sophomore season which saw them drop nine places in the Western Conference standings from their inaugural year. The Toros opened their new soccer-specific stadium in 2017 with an indicator of what was to come, losing to San Antonio FC by a goal to nil. Home supporters would only be treated to five wins and 20 goals throughout the rest of the season.
Previous manager Junior Gonzalez, now on the LA Galaxy coaching staff, opted for a traditional 4-2-3-1 for most of the season, with an ever rotating cast of not quite proper center forwards leading the line. The greatest benefiter of this system was Kyle Murphy, who led the team with seven goals, coming both as an ad hoc striker and from his more natural right wing position. This mix-and-match approach to filling up the eleven also saw multiple central midfielders take up the number nine role.
A late switch to a more attack oriented 4-1-4-1 was not enough to turn the Toros’ tide, the side collecting a paltry six goals in the seven matches following the switch. On the other side of the ball, however, returning defensive stalwart Kai Greene and fresh-faced goalkeeper Nico Corti will look to shore up the club’s already decent defensive record. Greene racked up the fourth most playing time in a squad averaging 1.56 goals against per match, while Corti is coming off an outstanding year at Stanford University, conceding only nine goals in 23 appearances with a .890 save percentage.
RGV were participants in two of the most goal-heavy matches of the entire 2017 USL season. Unfortunately for the native supporters, only one saw the Toros emerge victorious, and neither was in front of the crowd at H-E-B Park. June brought a 6-2 defeat at the hands of Sacramento Republic FC with over 11,000 witnessing the dismantling. An early August matchup at Seattle Sounders II, however, featured a wonderful second half comeback. Three unanswered goals erased a 3-1 halftime deficit, seeing the Toros leave Seattle with all three points in a 4-3 victory. For the pessimists reading this, though, it should be noted that this one match accounted for nearly one-fourth of all RGV’s away goals.
New manager Gerson Echeverry will need to get the team firing on all cylinders in the final third if there is to be any hope for improvement. Their 20 home goals were accompanied by an even more depressing 17 on the road, combining for the fourth worst goal tally in the Western Conference. The manager will no doubt be eagerly awaiting the approval of new forward Jesus Enriquez’s P-1 visa, as the former Club Tijuana reserve striker will be expected to find the back of the net early and often. Even the stingiest defense needs goals to complement it, and RGV were hardly a brick wall, ending the year conceding the seventh most goals in the entire 30-team league.
All in all, it seems the Toros will live and die by their offensive output this year, so be on the lookout for a shakeup along the front lines. With a new manager and a whole host of new signings, RGV will look quite a bit different from their 2017 squad. Hopefully 2018 will prove to be bullish for RGV’s goal accounts.
RGV FC NEXT MATCH:
Friday, March 16 vs. Saint Louis FC; 7:30 PM
All USL matches are streamed live on the USL YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBhFPYpX9WBxYRMGzqLjoMA
Author: Busby Cagle