The Rio Grande Valley FC Toros will enter the final weekend of their debut USL season with a chance to finish first in the Western Conference after a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Orange County Blues FC Saturday night at Anteater Stadium on the campus of University of California-Irvine. A pair of substitutes combined for the winning goal as forward Dzenan Catic headed a pinpoint cross from Kyle Murphy into the net with 10 minutes left as the Toros recorded their seventh road win this season.
The Toros (13-7-9; 48 points) are in third place in the USL’s Western Conference with one game remaining, at home against San Antonio FC on Saturday. RGV FC is one point behind Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and Sacramento Republic FC (49 points each) in the race for the top spot in the West. While the final seeding won’t be decided until next weekend, the Toros all but assured themselves a top-four finish and a home playoff game for the first round of the playoffs.
“We knew from the beginning that they were going to come after us and push,” Rio Grande Valley FC head coach Wilmer Cabrera told HoustonDynamo.com by phone. “We needed to make sure we were organized in defense and did not make mistakes. In the second half we gained more and more control of the game. We had fresh legs [after bringing on four substitutes] and we could have scored a few more.”
The game’s only goal came in the 80th minute as Murphy charged to the corner and created enough space from his defender to deliver a great cross. Catic rose eight yards from goal and headed past OC Blues goalkeeper Brandon Miller for his sixth goal of the season. It was a timely strike for Catic, who entered the match just two minutes earlier.
The goal was also important for Catic because it was his first headed goal since he missed three months following a concussion earlier this season.
“It is big for him,” Cabrera said. “He needed that for his confidence. Before the concussion he was not tentative to head the ball. Lately, he has been tentative, but lately he’s been gaining confidence, and on the goal he made a great play and now he knows he can continue with his career.”
Catic is now tied for the team scoring lead with Memo Rodriguez, Emilio Garcia and Ruben Luna.
It was Murphy’s first assist of the season. He, Catic, Rodriguez and Jorginho James brought energy to the team as second-half substitutes.
“Kyle has been fantastic,” Cabrera said. “He is strong and fast and he’s playing a role that he didn’t know. Against LA Galaxy II on Wednesday he was one of the best players on the field. He’s a [natural] forward playing more wide and he does a very good job. He’s smart and he has a very good idea of when to cross and when to make a diagonal run.”
The Toros went 7-4-4 on the road this regular-season, claiming 25 points on their travels.
Next weekend, first place Colorado Springs will visit the OC Blues on Saturday night, with kickoff set for 9 p.m. CDT. Meanwhile, Sacramento travels to face Tulsa Roughnecks FC, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m., a simultaneous start with the Toros hosting San Antonio the same night. By game’s end, RGV FC will know if it has passed Sacramento in the standings and will have to wait for Colorado Springs’ result later that evening.
Most important for Cabrera, however, is for his team to reestablish confidence at home before the playoffs.
“It is very important for us to regain out home mentality, because it looks like we will play our first playoff game at home. We need to be ready physically and mentally because the last game we played at home we lost 1-0 [to Portland Timbers 2 on September 10]. We need to continue the feeling that the Toros are a good team, home or away.”
The Toros are 2-0-1 in three meetings with San Antonio this year, with a 1-0 win in the last encounter on June 4. Saturday’s game from Toro Stadium in Edinburg, Texas will begin at 7:30 p.m. CDT and will stream live here.
Orange County Blues FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
September 17, 2016 – Anteater Stadium – Irvine, California
RGV: Dzenan Catic 6 (Kyle Murphy 1) 80
Rio Grande Valley FC: Devin Perales; Kai Greene, Taylor Hunter, Ivan Magalhaes, Kevin Garcia ©; Charlie Ward, Eric Bird; Yair Arboleda* (Kyle Murphy 66), Emilio Garcia (Jorginho James 83), TJ Casner (Memo Rodriguez 69); Ruben Luna (Dzenan Catic 78)
*Summary of Dynamo Academy alumni involvement in Saturday’s 1-0 win:
Memo Rodriguez made his 29th appearance of the season, entering for the final 21 minutes. Rodriguez was active, registering three shots, with two on goal in his short outing. He has six goals (tied for team-high) and five assists (tied for team-high) and is one of two players (Charlie Ward) to appear in all 29 games this season. He’s played a total of 1,810 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.