EDINBURG — The RGV FC Toros entered Saturday with a six-match winless streak. At home, the skid was even longer: seven matches dating back to June 10.
RGV FC’s opponent, Reno 1868, had been unbeaten just as long, with six wins and a draw in its past seven outings.
The Toros snapped all three streaks on Saturday, putting together a complete performance in a 1-0 win over Reno at H-E-B Park.
“This was awesome for us,” RGV FC defender Ivan Magalhaes said. “We owe these fans a win, so I think it was a great night to be part of the Toros. We needed that. The team needed that. The fans needed that. So it was really good.”
RGV FC had taken three losses and four 1-1 draws at home since its last victory. Overall, the Toros had three losses and three draws in their past six matches.
After conceding a game-deciding goal in the closing seconds of last week’s loss to Sacramento Republic FC, forward Kyle Murphy said the atmosphere in the locker room had hit a low point for the season.
Defender Justin Bilyeu said the scene after Saturday’s result marked a major turnaround.
“It’s a lot different. It’s great,” Bilyeu said. “It’s good to get a win. It’s been a while. We feel like we’ve been playing well and things haven’t been falling our way, but it was nice to get the win tonight.”
Reno had grown used to that feeling, rising all the way to 14-5-7 on the year to rank third in the Western Conference after not taking a loss since Aug. 2.
Reno’s 60 goals on the season was the highest total in the USL by nine entering Saturday, and 1868 still owns the league’s best goal differential at plus-28.
Despite Reno’s usual attacking prowess, RGV FC looked the more potent offense throughout Saturday’s match, launching 19 shots to Reno’s 7 and putting 7 on target compared to Reno’s 3.
“We just hit our spots where we wanted to transition,” RGV FC coach Junior Gonzalez said. “Because we did that, we were able to run forward with some good pace and a lot of guys were able to get past the back line. We have been working on trying to unbalance teams a little more and being a little more direct to stretch teams.”
On the defensive end, Magalhaes said the Toros had extensively scouted Reno’s speedy forwards and diamond midfield formation on video. RGV was prepared to keep constant communication in the back to cut out passing lanes, Bilyeu said.
As a result, the Toros picked up their first clean sheet since July 1 — a streak of 12 matches.
“It was very important. We’ve been talking about it,” Magalhaes said. “We needed to keep the clean sheet. It’s been a while. It was a real effort. Everyone was defending and everyone was fighting for every ball. So we were very excited to keep the clean sheet.”
RGV FC scored on a penalty kick by Bilyeu in the 32nd minute. Murphy drew the foul, entering the penalty area behind the Reno defense after receiving a deft through pass from Eric Bird. As Murphy crossed into the box, Reno keeper Matt Bersano charged forward and made a sliding tackle attempt, missing the ball but clipping Murphy on the left ankle.
Bilyeu, a defender, fired the ball into the right side of the net for his first goal in 22 appearances with RGV FC.
The Toros have struggled converting penalties this year, so Gonzalez said he wanted to go with a player Reno wouldn’t have scouted. Bilyeu had worked on his penalties in practice but hadn’t taken one in a match this season. Still, he said he knew exactly where he wanted to go with the ball when he stepped to the spot.
“My entire life I’ve taken them,” Bilyeu said. “I had that confidence to go up there and do it. It doesn’t make me nervous or anything.”
RGV FC’s lead became substantially easier to protect in the 79th minute, when Reno’s leading scorer, Dane Kelly, was sent off with a red card.
Kelly, who ranks tied for the most goals in the USL with 16, was charging toward a ball in the box when he collided with sliding Toros keeper Calle Brown, kicking him in the face.
“That was good for us. They were pushing at the end to get the equalizer,” Magalhaes said. “If they had 11 players, that could’ve been more complicated.”
The victory lifts RGV FC to 8-13-7 on the season, amounting to 31 points and a 12th-place standing in the Western Conference. The Toros are four points away from the eighth-place cutoff to qualify for the playoffs with four matches remaining.
“We just have to keep fighting, keep trusting each other and keep believing,” Magalhaes said. “We put ourselves in this situation. Now we just have to prove to everyone.”