Indomitable City Soccer: With Saturday being the first time Republic and RGVFC have played, the Toros are a bit of a mystery to us out here in Sacramento. Can you give us an introduction?
Carson Merk: Hi, we're the RGVFC Toros and we have a soccer problem. Just kidding! The Toros are the USL hybrid affiliate of the Houston Dynamo. They play at UTRGV's soccer complex currently, while waiting for their state of the art stadium to be completed. The debut season has seen some ups and downs, mainly ups to this point. They have a wide variety of player backgrounds, some from Central American countries, past USL players, Dynamo loanees and even a player from England. They are all tasked with playing a possession style attack for Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera. They're captained by Kevin Garcia, and are a very tight knit, fun group of young men.
ICS:. RGVFC is a bit of a new beast to USL. It's the first hybrid MLS affiliate, with Houston Dynamo running the technical side of things and the Toros running the business side. How do you feel the unique relationship is working in the early goings?
CM: According to previous conversations with Toros President Bert Garcia, as well as my personal opinion, it's been great. It's not an arrangement that will work for everybody, the pieces need to fit. With the Toros' ownership group already in a hybrid affiliation on the basketball side with the Houston Rockets and NBA D-League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers, they knew what to expect.
One tricky part for the Toros coaching staff is the balance between going for results, and developing the young talent for the Dynamo. They could not have a better man to toe that line than Wilmer Cabrera. He coached Chivas USA, so he is a top level coach that can win you matches, but he also has experience coaching the USMNT's U-17 and U-18 sides, so he has great experience with developing elite young talent.
Another tricky part involves the game day subs. While Christian Lucatero is on a season long loan from Houston to RGVFC, other Dynamo first team players are loaned down on a match to match basis. So on one hand, it might tweak the team chemistry a tiny bit with a player who hasn't trained all week thrown in for a match. On the other hand, those are MLS players bringing their skills to the USL, and the Toros run a very similar system on purpose as the Dynamo to limit any play style confusion.
ICS: Who are some players that Republic fans should keep an eye on this weekend?
CM: Sacramento will avoid seeing one of the Toros more exciting players. Honduran international Jose Escalante, a dynamic attacker for RGVFC, was sent off in their match against OKC Energy, so he will be unavailable. TJ Casner is tied for the league lead in assists, and will be joining the team following a US Open Cup appearance with the Dynamo midweek. Jose Memo Rodriguez is a Dynamo Homegrown product that has really come into his own this season, great skills on the ball and dangerous to shoot from anywhere.
The two guys that really drive the Toros are Kevin Garcia and Charlie Ward. The captain, Kevin Garcia, is a defender who is steady on the ball and the clear cut leader on the field. In the first match he didn't start, last week at Swope Park, the club gave up three goals in the first half. That isn't entirely due to Garcia not being in, but it definitely played a big part. A former Stoke City and Aston Villa youth player, Charlie Ward is the starter of the RGVFC offense. He has elite distribution skills, and is a very willing defender. If the Toros offense is running through Ward, it's running smoothly.
You also never know who could be down to get time from the first team. Mauro Manotas and Rob Lovejoy have been great in their USL appearances, and Calle Brown could possibly be down for the GK duties.
With the Sacramento defense playing so well, I'll say they limit the Toros to 1 goal, but cannot find a goal of their own. I'll say RGVFC 1- Sacramento-0, with the goal coming from Memo Rodriguez. It should be an exciting match, with both teams playing well, and near the top of the Western Conference.