All Toros, No Bull: RGVFC stun Phoenix, advance on PKs to face San Antonio FC

In their first playoff match since 2016, RGVFC pulled off a massive upset as they defeated Phoenix Rising, the top team in the Western Conference, on penalty kicks to advance to the Conference Semifinals. The Toros will face their rivals, San Antonio FC, in the next round this weekend.

RGVFC Toros 

After a 2-1 loss vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on 9/18, things were looking very bleak for the Toros. They were winless in eight straight matches (including five losses) and were level on points with New Mexico United, who occupied sixth place. Wilmer Cabrera couldn’t figure out how his veteran club couldn’t see out matches and it just seemed like nothing was going RGVFC’s way. Imagine telling someone that, in less than two months, the Toros would have defeated a juggernaut Phoenix Rising FC club in the first round of the USL Championship Playoffs…

But, that’s exactly what just happened over the weekend. After getting hot with three straight wins to close the regular season, they went into Arizona and handed Rising FC their only home loss of 2021. The most impressive part about the upset win is that it wasn’t just a smash & grab where the Toros bunkered down for the entire match and found magic in a counter-attack or something like that. The visitors held the majority of possession (53%) and had just one less shot than Phoenix.

The back-and-forth match reached full-time tied at two. Then, Solomon Asante’s goal in the first half of added extra time was cancelled out by Elvis Amoh’s penalty kick in the second half. Only appearing for 20 minutes of the additional action, Vicente Sanchez drew the penalty after goalkeeper Andre Rawls appeared to take him down in the box.

With the season coming down the a penalty kick shootout, RGVFC converted 4/5 from the spot while Collin Miller held Phoenix to a 3/5 performance. The first-ever postseason win for the Toros was a massive upset on the road, similar to Oakland Roots SC stunning El Paso Locomotive FC in Texas the day before. Now, Wilmer & Co. will face San Antonio FC with a chance to move into the Western Conference Finals while Oakland takes on Orange County SC in the other semifinal.

Two important absences could potentially impact the Toros against SAFC. Christian Sorto was called into international duty with El Salvador for World Cup qualifying (vs. Jamaica on Friday and Panama on Tuesday). Plus, FC Cincinnati loanee Jonas Fjeldberg will be ineligible for the playoffs per Laurel Pfahler of the Queen City Press. Both players were key to the club’s success down the stretch.

Top Toros

Rodrigo Lopez: The 34-year-old midfielder buried a free kick to equalize in the second half and send the match to added extra time. He also completed 46 passes (84% accuracy), created two chances, made five tackles, and finished with four shots. His title-winning experience with Sacramento Republic FC in 2014 will be valuable to the Toros.

Baboucarr Njie: On the broadcast, they mentioned that Wilmer referred to Carter Manley as the MVP of the team. But, for me, there’s been nobody more valuable down the stretch than Njie. His attacking ability from left-back has been crucial and he had that on full display with his highlight-reel run and goal to open the scoring. He added two interceptions and two tackles on the night and converted the first penalty of the shootout.

Collin Miller: He filled in admirably for the injured Tyler Deric and kept his team close against the most explosive attack in the league. Miller made four saves during the run of play before stopping two penalty kicks back-to-back.

San Antonio FC

After finishing the regular season as the #2 Mountain Division club, San Antonio FC got off to a strong start in the playoffs. They hosted San Diego Loyal SC last Friday and came away with a 2-0 win.

Typical to their style of play, SAFC (30%) conceded most of the possession to San Diego (70%) and actually finished with four less shots. Both goals came from set pieces as Nathan headed home a free kick delivery from Mohammed Abu and Santiago Patino put the ball home from close-range after San Diego couldn’t clear the ball on a corner kick.

That style of play mentioned above is being extremely physical and playing very direct with the ball. San Antonio led the USL Championship in fouls (500) and yellow cards (94) while averaging just 45% possession. Before the South Texas Derby on 5/16, (per RGVFC communications) Wilmer Cabrera said the following about what he had learned about SAFC: ““They are very aggressive, they kick a lot, they are very dirty, so it is a tough team to play because they are very direct, but it is going to be a tough game.”

The season series between the clubs was as closely-contested as possible. In the four meetings, each club won one match 2-1 with two 1-1 draws in the other fixtures. Their most recent meeting was all the way back in early August (a San Antonio win at H-E-B Park).

Players to Watch

Nathan: The Brazilian forward leads the club with 11 goals and is tied at the top with four assists. He scored the opening goal vs. San Diego, finishing with three total shots.

Mohammed Abu: He delivered a perfect ball in from a free kick to assist on Nathan’s goal vs. Loyal SC, one of three chances he created. The former Manchester City signing and MLS veteran added four tackles and 91% passing accuracy in the playoff win on Friday.

Mitchell Taintor: On loan from Sacramento Republic FC, the central defender is a key piece to the SAFC backline. He’s the club’s leader in clearances (76) and passes (1,087), plus he added two assists this season.

The Deets

Saturday, 8 PM CT, Toyota Field

RGVFC at San Antonio FC

Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.