The next step in the Houston Dynamo soccer pyramid begins Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma as the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros open their inaugural season in the USL at ONEOK Field against Tulsa Roughnecks FC.
RGV FC is the hybrid affiliate of the Dynamo, who control all technical aspects of the soccer operation while the McAllen, Texas based Rio Grande Valley Vipers run the business operations, including the current construction of a 9,400 seat soccer stadium that will resemble Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium. Tonight’s inaugural Toros match will begin at 7 p.m. CT, and can be seen at the USL Youtube channel.
The Toros will play their first four games on the road before their first home game April 30 against LA Galaxy II. After the first training camp in club history, Dynamo general manager Matt Jordan is pleased with the club’s progress ahead of the 30-game season.
“There has been a lot of communication and integration between our (Dynamo) first team staff, RGV FC staff and Academy, which is critical as the technical side of our club continues to grow,” Jordan said. “The team is coming together well. We’re finding the right balance between being a competitive group and developing as young professionals. We understand this is a process and will take time, but we are off to a good start.”
The Toros announced six more signings on Saturday, rounding the roster out at 21 to begin the USL season. RGV FC is one of five new expansion clubs in USL in 2016 as the third-division league has swelled to 29 clubs.
“The makeup of the roster is exactly as we planned,” Jordan said. “One third of the roster is from our Academy along with our Dynamo draft picks (Ivan Magalhaes & T.J. Casner). The other third are players at a good age that we feel have the potential to grow in our system. The last third are younger pros with experience and upside. These guys are excited about the opportunity to be a part of the Houston Dynamo with the ambition to work towards the first team.”
The 2016 squad includes four products of the Dynamo Academy: Midfielders Memo Rodriguez and Christian Lucatero (a Dynamo player on loan to RGV FC), forward Charly Flores and defender Leo Ayala.
“Memo Rodriguez has played well and demonstrated an exemplary attitude and outstanding professionalism; it’s clear he’s benefited from his time with the first team and in Charleston last season” Jordan said. “For Luca and Charly, this is the next natural step in their progression as young professionals. There is going to be a learning curve, but this is where they need to be and we are really excited about both players’ potential. Leo Ayala has worked very hard to earn a place on the team the hard way, on a tryout basis from day one.”
Wilmer Cabrera is the first head coach of RGV FC, with the former U.S. Under-17 head coach carrying a track record of player development. The 1998 World Cup veteran with Colombia also owns a playing resume that commands respect from the young team.
“This group is older (than the U.S. U-17s), they are more mature,” Cabrera said. “They have a better mentality and they want to be professional. So far it’s been good for them; it’s a different experience. It’s a professional environment and they need to learn and adapt. They’re adjusting to the speed of the game.”
Kevin Garcia, 25, is the first captain for Cabrera and RGV FC. A 2012 draft pick of the New England Revolution, Garcia has played with Swedish club IFK Luleå and the Irish Premier League’s Galway United. Garcia, a four-year starter at Villanova University, was coached by Cabrera during his youth career at BW Gottschee.
“Kevin is the most experienced player,” Cabrera said. “He has played in Sweden and Ireland, and I think it’s very important for the players to rely on him vocally and by example, on and off the field.
The Dynamo now have a second team with 21 players eager for development and pushing for consideration from Coyle and the Dynamo first team staff. For Jordan, it is clear that a player’s name or resume doesn’t entitle them to playing time with the Toros or a spot on the Dynamo. Merit and earning one’s place are key themes with the new RGV FC project.
“The most important thing we believe as a technical staff is that every player has to earn their way to the first team,” Jordan said. “Nothing is given in the world of soccer, and this is a man’s game. We feel that when players sacrifice and perform, they can work their way up the ladder.”
For Cabrera, his continued communication with Coyle will shape the team’s style of play. But the former Colombia defender has a clear idea of the type of player he wants in his team.
“We have chosen players with technical abilities,” said Cabrera. “They need to be able to play with the ball at their feet – that is a priority to us. They need to have a good respect for the ball and the game. Try to play, and enjoy winning and scoring goals, because you also have to get points.”