The Rio Grande Valley FC Toros faced an MLS caliber team on Saturday in Kansas City and walked away with a 2-0 win over Swope Park Rangers, lengthening their unbeaten streak to 10 games and collecting a fifth straight win. Ruben Luna scored for the fifth straight game, TJ Casner added the clinching goal and Callum Irving stopped a penalty kick for an impressive road win (highlights above courtesy Swope Park Rangers).
The Toros (12-5-9; 45 points) remain in second place in the USL’s Western Conference, two points behind Sacramento Republic FC with a game in hand and four total games remaining in the regular season.
RGV FC has outscored opponents 21-1 during the 10-game run. When the streak began, the Toros were 6-5-5 on the season, with a plus-1 goal difference. Now, RGV FC’s plus-21 goal difference is the second-best in the 29-team USL, only trailing New York Red Bulls II (plus-32).
The Rangers added nine players on loan from parent club Sporting Kansas City for Saturday’s match, including veterans Paulo Nagamura, Seth Sinovic, Kevin Ellis, Tim Melia, Conor Hallisey and Diego Rubio, a Young Designated Player who started against the Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup in June. Many from Saturday’s Rangers lineup could start for Sporting Kansas City in next week’s CONCACAF Champions League group stage match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
“It was great because we knew traveling to Kansas City, they announced that nine players were sent to play against us,” RGV FC head coach Wilmer Cabrera told HoustonDynamo.com by phone. “It was an honor that they sent nine players because they see the value and that it is a competitive match. We need to measure ourselves against Sporting Kansas City first team players. I told the players: You have to show if you can be a first team player and see if you can play in MLS.”
The Toros took a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute as Memo Rodriguez delivered a precise corner kick and Luna dove to head inside the left post for the opening goal.
Luna has scored in each game during RGV FC’s five-game win streak, with six total goals. It was Rodriguez’s fifth assist of the season, now tied for the team lead with Casner.
In the 23rd minute, Emilio Garcia drove a bending free kick around the wall and forced a diving save from Melia, who parried away.
SPR were awarded a penalty kick midway through the second half as Rubio cut back inside the box as RGV defender George Malki slid to block a shot. Referee Jose Lara saw contact and awarded the spot kick.
Irving guessed correctly on Nagamura’s penalty, diving to his right and tipping the shot off the post. The rebound fell in the path of Emmanuel Appiah, but he hit the opposite post under pressure from a Toros defender.
Cabrera praised Irving’s save and the effort of the defenders to react quickly and make Appiah’s second effort more challenging.
“That was critical and that moment helped us take control of the game,” Cabrera said. “We started to take control of the ball and they became more tired and we were more fresh.”
Casner made it 2-0 in the 67th minute, taking a pass from Charlie Ward and trying his luck from a tight angle on the left edge of the box. Melia appeared to be in position for the save, but Casner’s shot slipped through the goalkeeper’s hands for his second goal of the season.
The road win was RGV’s sixth of the season and a great response following a 4-0 loss at Children’s Mercy Victory Field on June 8.
Irving made one save for his seventh shutout in 12 starts this season. The Canadian has allowed just eight goals in 13 appearances (0.63 GAA).
The Toros will try for their sixth consecutive win on Saturday as they host Portland Timbers 2 at Toro Stadium. The game will begin at 7:30 p.m. CDT and will stream live here.
“Portland is a very dangerous team,” Cabrera said. “They are a very young team with some very fast players. They just beat OKC [Energy FC] 4-0 and I watched the game. They play with a lot of enthusiasm and freedom and confidence. They are not as organized and disciplined, but they play and have fun and they have nothing to lose.”
Swope Park Rangers vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
September 3, 2016 – Swope Soccer Village – Kansas City, Missouri
RGV – Ruben Luna 6 (Memo Rodriguez 5) 8
RGV – TJ Casner 2 (Charlie Ward 2) 67
Swope Park Rangers: Tim Melia; Ever Alvarado, Kevin Ellis, Amer Didic (Christian Duke 87’), Seth Sinovic (Tommy Meyer 62’); Ualefi (Mark Anthony Gonzalez 73’), Paulo Nagamura, Emmanuel Appiah; Connor Hallisey (Ayrton 73’), Diego Rubio, Cameron Porter (Tyler Pasher 73’).
Rio Grande Valley FC: Callum Irving; George Malki, Taylor Hunter, Ivan Magalhaes, Kevin Garcia ©; Charlie Ward, Eric Bird (Kyle Murphy 88), Emilio Garcia (Kai Greene 90), Memo Rodriguez (Jorghino James 79), TJ Casner (Christian Lucatero 90+); Ruben Luna (Dzenan Catic 76).
*Summary of Dynamo Academy alumni involvement in Saturday’s 0-0 draw:
Memo Rodriguez started the match, earned an assist on Ruben Luna’s opening goal and played 79 minutes. Rodriguez has six goals (tied for team-high) and five assists (tied for team-high) in 26 appearances this season (tied for team-high) for a total of 1,680 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 in Edinburg, Texas that will resemble Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium.