The Rio Grande Valley FC Toros traveled to one of the most difficult environments in the USL and gathered a 2-0 win over Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC Sunday afternoon, setting a league record with their eighth consecutive shutout. The Toros won both games on their two-city road trip and have outscored opponents 17-0 during an eight-game unbeaten streak.
The Toros (10-5-9; 39 points) handed Colorado Springs (10-7-7; 37 points) only its second home loss of the season and moved past Switchbacks FC to third place in the Western Conference standings, a point back of co-leaders Sacramento Republic FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2.
RGV FC’s shutout streak has reached 721 minutes, a league record for the USL, surpassing the previous mark of 568 minutes set by the Rochester Rhinos to begin the 2012 season. Toros head coach Wilmer Cabrera believes that the shutout record has been built on the team’s collective mentality.
“We work as a team, that’s the key,” Carbera told HoustonDynamo.com by phone. “When someone makes a mistake, there is always cover and someone behind to help. We are trying to show that we work as a unit in terms of defense and our offensive side of the game.”
The offensive is now clicking as well, with 13 goals in the last three games after RGV FC didn’t score in four of five games.
Buoyed by five second-half goals in last Thursday’s 5-0 win at Tulsa, the Toros grabbed a lead after just six minutes in Colorado. Midfielder Charlie Ward began the scoring play with a long switching ball in midfield to isolate Dynamo loanee Jose Escalante on the left wing. The Honduran midfielder quickly crossed for Rubén Luna at the top of the box and he used a strong, swift turn to clear space from his defender and finish low into the left corner for a 1-0 lead.
Luna has now scored in each of the last three games, his first three starts with the Toros. The 24-year-old Mexican-American signed with RGV FC on July 13, when the club was in a scoring funk, with two goals in four games.
“I have known Ruben for a long time, going back to when he was young and with the FC Dallas Development Academy,” Cabrera said. “He has a special talent and he fits the style of play we have. He is a goal scorer. We had a goal scoring drought and now he is showing us he can score and can help us win games. He is adjusting really quickly.”
The early momentum took a turn in the 15th minute when Dynamo goalkeeper Tyler Deric injured his left elbow while making a save in traffic. Deric was nearly fully recovered from an abdominal strain suffered on July 14 and was in his first game action since the injury, on loan to RGV FC. Deric sustained a sprained left elbow and his expected return date is not yet known.
Callum Iving replaced Deric and continued the strong form that’s defined his first professional season out of the University of Kentucky. The former Canada youth international made six saves to keep the shutout streak intact and lower his goals against average to 0.65, with seven goals against in 11 games.
Switchbacks FC midfielder Rony Argueta was sent off moments before halftime, allowing the Toros to play up a man for the entire second half.
“I know Colorado because I lived there and worked there and I know how the high altitude is going to make you feel after the 60th or 70th minute,” Cabrera said. “But I tried to prepare the team to manage the game well. [The red card] gave us the opportunity to manage the game and manage the ball more comfortably. They made an extra effort to attack and produce more and when they broke through the defense our goalkeepers were outstanding.”
RGV FC sealed the win through two substitutes. Midfielder Memo Rodriguez cleverly dribbled past a defender and crossed for Dzenan Catic, whose first shot was blocked by goalkeeper Devala Gorrick, but Catic buried his rebound for the 2-0 lead.
Catic has four goals in the last three games—each off the bench—and now has five goals on the season.
“As a staff we try to tell players that soccer is like life,” Cabrera said. “You have good days and bad days, but you cannot change your philosophy. The players are starting to understand that. This is how we play, home and away, and we won’t change that. We aren’t worried about breaking records. We are worried about playing our game and bringing what we need to the field individually and collectively.”
Unbeaten in eight games, all defensive shutouts, Cabrera is not in unseen territory. The 1998 FIFA World Cup veteran with Colombia recalls a lengthy winning streak during the 1996-97 season with América de Cali in the Colombian First Division. The Cali-based club won the league that season and lost in the 1996 Copa Libertadores Final to River Plate after a brace from Hernán Crespo. (América de Cali was ranked by the International Federation of Football History as the No. 2 team in the world in 1996, trailing Juventus.)
“Yes, I had a chance to play in a team where we won 14 or 15 games in a row in 1996 or 1997. We won 14 straight games and for the 15th, which would have been a record, we lost 1-0. We never thought about breaking records. We just went on the field to play. I was captain at the time and it was an honor. I think it’s the same mentality. I tell the players, ‘I’m not worried about the record, I’m just worried about us playing well and we need to play how we want to play.’ Most of the time, if you play well, the result is going to come.”
The Toros host Colorado Springs on Saturday at Toro Stadium. RGV FC will benefit from extra rest after Switchbacks FC hosts OKC Energy FC on Wednesday.
“They are fit in terms of preparation, they can run all day, and they have talent,” Cabrera said of Colorado Springs. “They are always consistent. I expect that they will come out strong, with an offensive mentality. I don’t think they will try to drop back and counterattack. I think they will try to play. The temperature and altitude will be different and we’ll see if we can manage these aspects better than them.”
Saturday’s game will begin at 7:30 p.m. CDT and will stream live here.
Colorado Spring Switchbacks FC (10-7-7; 37 points) vs. Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (10-5-9; 39 points)
August 21, 2016 – Switchbacks Stadium – Colorado Springs, Colorado
RGV FC: Ruben Luna 3 (Jose Escalante 3) 6
RGV FC: Dzenan Catic 5 (unassisted) 86
Rio Grande Valley FC: Tyler Deric* (Callum Irving 19); Taylor Hunter, Kevin Garcia ©, Ivan Magalhaes, George Malki; Jorginho James (Eric Bird 46), Charlie Ward; Jose Escalante* (Yair Arboleda* 60), Emilio Garcia, Rob Lovejoy (Memo Rodriguez 65); Ruben Luna (Dzenan Catic 86)
*On loan from Houston Dynamo
*Summary of Dynamo Academy alumni involvement in Saturday’s 0-0 draw:
Memo Rodriguez entered the game for the final 25 minutes and helped create the second goal with a good dribbling move and cross. The 20-year-old has six goals (tied for team-high) and four assists (second on team) in 24 appearances this season (1,513 total minutes).
*Note: The Dynamo and RGV FC have a hybrid affiliation, with the Dynamo in control of all technical aspects of the soccer operation, including the construction of the roster and the coaching staff. Meanwhile, 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.