The 2021 USL Championship season kicks off for Rio Grande Valley FC this weekend. The Toros, entering a new era of the club, will host New Mexico United at H-E-B Park this Saturday.
RGVFC Toros (0-0-0)
For the first five seasons of RGVFC soccer, the Houston Dynamo controlled the technical aspects of the club. Now, it’s time for Toros 2.0 as the club takes over the soccer operations ahead of the 2021 season. Wilmer Cabrera, the first-ever manager for the club, is back on the touchline and also serves as the sporting director tasked with building the roster. He’s assembled a mix of former Dynamo players, young talent from around the USL Championship, and returning players from the 2020 roster.
The only players back from 2020 are Kyle Edwards, James Murphy, Carter Manley, and Juan Carlos Azocar (on loan). Those players will combine with the newcomers to bounce back from a rough 2020 season that ended with just two wins (in the final two matches of the season). Vicente Sanchez joins the club as a player/coach and former head coach Gerson Echeverry is back on the staff as the Director of Scouting and assistant coach.
New Mexico United (0-0-0)
Joining the USL Championship in 2019, New Mexico United made the playoff play-in match in their inaugural season before making the conference semifinal in 2020. The club brings back key players like Josh Suggs, Amando Moreno, Devon Sandoval, and Kalen Ryden while also adding established players in the USL like Michael Azira, Alex Tambakis, and former RGVFC midfielder Isidro Martinez.
During the 2020 season, New Mexico tied for fifth in the league with seven clean sheets and finishing in the top ten for conversion rate and passes. The match scheduled between NMU and the Toros last season was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test within RGVFC and was not made up. In 2019, both matches between the clubs finished level.
Players to Watch
RGVFC: Juan David Cabezas
When the Dynamo made the Western Conference Finals in 2017, JDC was a massive contributor in the midfield. The Toros will hope that his physicality and passing ability will help them control possession and win the battle in the middle of the park. After not playing in 2020 and dealing with injuries towards the end of his time with the Dynamo, we will see if there’s any rust for the 30-year-old Colombian midfielder on Saturday.
New Mexico United: Chelo Martinez
After spending two seasons with the Toros, Martinez joined NMU this offseason. A gifted playmaker in the midfield, the Brownsville, Texas native had a positive preseason with his new club and will look to impress in his debut back home in the Valley. RGVFC will need to disrupt his timing and take away his space to prevent Chelo from having a major impact on Saturday.
Tyler Deric vs. Alex Tambakis
While they won’t physically interact on the pitch on Saturday, the goalkeeping matchup is crucial for both clubs. For Deric, he will try to stabilize a position that has been anything but consistent in recent years for the Toros. Last season, RGVFC were tied for 12th in the league for most goals conceded and only had two clean sheets. On the New Mexico side, Tambakis is stepping in for Cody Mizell, who is now with NYCFC. Mizell was fourth in the USL last season in clean sheets and was top ten in saves in 2019. No goalkeeper in the USL Championship has made more saves than Tambakis over the last three seasons and New Mexico United will need him to play well after Mizell’s departure.
Saturday, 7:30 PM CT, H-E-B Park
New Mexico United at RGVFC