The Rio Grande Valley FC Toros are preparing to make their 2016 season debut in the USL. Rio Grande Valley were awarded a USL franchise and announced their affiliation with the Houston Dynamo last March. GM Bert Garcia and company have been hard at work putting the finishing touches on the operations of this brand new team. I had a chance to catch up with Garcia to talk about what we can expect from the newcomer’s unique affiliation with the Houston Dynamos, as well as a get a preview of their players.
Due to a network of ownership agreements, when the Roughnecks battle the Toros this season, they will effectively be playing the “Houston Dynamo 2”. This type of arrangement is new to the MLS and USL, as the responsibility of running a USL team is shared over two ownership groups. “We were the first to do something like this in the NBA and NBA D-League with the [Rio Grande Valley] Vipers and the [Houston] Rockets,” said Garcia. “This isn’t something that’s foreign to us. It’s something we wanted to introduce and are happy that the Houston Dynamo agreed to it and I believe we’ll see more of [these types of agreements] happen at the MLS-level.”
How exactly is this different from the other MLS affiliations in the league? While Houston Dynamo handles fielding a team and will manage all aspects of personnel of the Toros, Rio Grande Valley will manage the day-to-day operations, including their new 9,700 capacity, soccer-specific stadium in Edinburg, Texas. This arrangement is very much like a baseball farm team affiliation. Like, for example, the Tulsa Drillers.
I asked Garcia about RGVFC’s squad for 2016. Garcia explained that they’re bringing in a lot of talent from the Dynamo’s system. “We have a lot of young guys. We have quite a few guys from the Dynamo Academy. I think Charly Flores and Christian Lucatero have a future. Flores played with the U-20 team for the USA and Lucatero is one of the bright stars with the Houston Dynamo Academy. One of the recent guys we signed, [defender] Kai Greene; I would put my money on him against anyone in a race. He’s got that kind of speed. That’s just me talking as a fan.”
Asked if he is expecting a learning curve with fielding a young team, Garcia said they are, “but I’m not sure if you’ll get a better coach to do that. [Wilmer Cabrera] coached the United States Under-17 squad for two World Cups. We have a guy who can teach [younger players]. Our organization has always been a ‘no excuses’ organization. We’ll make the most of it and we’ll have a lot of energy, because we’re so young.” The youth factor could also prove helpful to RGVFC when visiting teams travel to south Texas during the summer months; a time when temperatures are routinely in the 90-100 degree range (before considering the humidity).
Rio Grande Valley FC signed a few USL veterans to the squad, as well. Devin Perales (former goalkeeper for the Austin Aztex) and George Malki (former Arizona United midfielder) will look to bring their USL experience to this young squad. Perales started in 15 matches as keeper for the Aztex and had 5 shutouts during the 2015 season, one of those occurring in Tulsa. Malki had 11 starts and 24 appearances for Arizona United last season, including one goal. Additionally, RGVFC also brought in former Philadelphia Union striker, Dzenan Catic, who had stints in the USL in the 2015 season with the Harrisburg City Islanders.
The most obvious rival for Rio Grande Valley is San Antonio (only a 3.5 hour car ride from Edinburg), but they will look to build off an existing rivalry between Rio Grande Valley and Tulsa. The Tulsa 66ers (before moving to Oklahoma City) battled it out with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA D-League. The two teams met in the NBA D-League finals in 2010 (Rio Grande winning) and met again in the semifinals of the playoffs in 2013 (Rio Grande Valley winning again). This rivalry will look to carry over from the court to the pitch as the two teams will play each 3 times during the regular season.
Rio Grande Valley FC will be a nice addition to the current USL mix in the western conference. I expect a few more signings in the coming days, as the Houston Dynamo determine which players are going to RGVFC. The Toros will look to use their brand new stadium and supporters group, The Stampede, to make the trip to south Texas for opposing teams an intimidating one! If this team can string along some good results early in the season, they will certainly be in the mix for the wide-open Western Conference playoffs. The Tulsa Roughnecks will welcome the Toros to ONEOK Field this Saturday at 7:00 PM. Hopefully, the result will be in the Roughnecks favor!