Sacramento Republic scores twice late, forces draw against RGV FC Toros

EDINBURG — As Sacramento Republic FC sent in a cross from the left wing, trying to find an equalizer against RGV FC during Saturday’s 92nd minute, Toros defender Conor Donovan swung his right leg in an effort to clear the chance away. The ball skidded across the slick H-E-B Park turf, and Donovan’s kick tucked neatly into the upper-left corner of the net. Immediately, Donovan dropped to his knees, head in hands.

Donovan’s own goal was the final tally as RGV FC let a two-goal lead slip away during the final 10 minutes, coming away with a 2-2 draw.

“We feel like we lost two points tonight,” RGV FC captain Todd Wharton said. “Two goals with 10 minutes left — we have to win those games. We’re still young. We’re still learning. We’re going to get better every game. So it’s good that we’re learning now early on in the season. It’s just going to help us later on. But it is tough to swallow after being up two goals.”

Donovan was not made available for comment after the game. He was one of a few Toros players who crumbled to the turf after the error that led to the tying score.

Donovan made contact with the ball only about 7 yards from the Toros’ net, and coach Gerson Echeverry said Donovan attempted to take a swing at the ball rather than touching it softly. Goalkeeper Nicolas Corti was unable to make a sprawling save, ensuring the disappointing result.

“It’s terrible. Right now, they’re miserable. I went in there and I had to console them,” Echeverry said of his players. “When you’re up 2-0 with that much time left, it feels like a loss. And in the end, that bitter taste, hopefully it stays in their mouth to tell them they don’t want that.”

The circumstances surrounding Sacramento’s first goal only added to the frustration. Sacramento was lining up a free kick from about 30 yards away on the left half of the pitch, and the referee allowed the ball to be played quickly, before RGV FC had set its defense. As the Toros were still shuffling in the penalty area and trying to find their marks, Sacramento sent a cross from the left edge of the penalty area that was headed home by Cameron Iwasa in the 80th minute.

“The breakdown was the referee,” Echeverry said. “Our guys were in front of the ball. The referee told them they had to move. … As our guy moved, they played it quickly and caught us off balance. So I can’t really get upset at my guys when the referee is telling our guys to move and lets them play early and catch us off guard.”

Echeverry said he was “very happy” with RGV’s performance overall, as the Toros came away with a draw to move to 0-0-2 on the season despite holding leads in both matches. On a team filled with young talent and first-time professionals, Echeverry said experience is the biggest thing the Toros need to gain in order to continue progressing and protect leads like the one they built Saturday.

“We gave it away,” Echeverry said. “We’re just flying forward, and a little bit of youthful, a little immaturity and not knowing how to manage the game. … That’s not something we can really work on down there, or we can do. It’s called father time.”

Todd Wharton scored RGV FC’s first goal in the 51st minute, firing a penalty kick into the lower-left corner of the net. Aldo Quintanilla drew the foul when he was bumped in the box trying to corral a cross from Jhon Montano.

Wharton scored just once last season across 2,327 minutes and 31 matches but cracked the 2018 scoresheet in just RGV FC’s second match.

“It always helps your confidence if you get one early,” Wharton said. “Helping the team get a result, but at the end of the day, we didn’t win.”

Jorginho James, in the starting lineup after sitting out the Toros’ opener, extended RGV FC’s lead to 2-0 in the 79th minute — just one minute before Iwasa scored to start Sacramento’s comeback.

Aldo Quintanilla, another first-time Toros starter, dribbled across the top of the penalty box from the left wing and sent a pass to James, who was alone at the top of the circle above the penalty area. James fired a hard shot into the right side of the net.

“I know my striker — we trained a lot,” James said of Quintanilla. “He’s a good guy that holds up the ball. I screamed and I asked him, ‘Please,’ because in practice I keep getting those balls, and that’s my strong point.”

RGV FC will kick off its longest road trip of the season with a match against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on April 7 — the first of three consecutive road matches. The Toros return to H-E-B Park on April 25 to play Orange County SC.

“We’re disappointed, of course, for the result. But we can’t kill ourselves over it because we have the next game on the road,” James said. “So we have to move past this, what happened tonight, and see what happens on the road.”