One of those nights: Toros fall in first USL home match

FC Toros forward Wilmer Cabrera Jr (13) and Fresno FC midfielder Seth Moses (26) battle for the ball during a season opener at H-E-B Park on Saturday, Mar. 16, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — The RGV FC Toros envisioned a strong start in their first home match of the 2019 USL season against Fresno FC.

Instead, the visitors scored the quickest away goal in HEB Park history – the second minute – to turn those plans upside down. Fresno (1-0-1) prevailed 2-0 over RGV FC (0-2-0) in the Toros’ home opener Saturday.

 

To add salt to the wound, RGV’s best chance to score and climb back into the game dinked off the right goal post on a penalty, a sign of the missed opportunities that haunted the home squad all night.

“ A goal that early is hard, but when it does comes that early we still have 85 minutes to tie it up and potentially get a second one,” RGV FC captain Kyle Adams said. “It’s not easy going down early but you just need to deal with that and honestly treat it like it’s 0-0. Just start the game again.”

After the rude awakening, the Toros were dominant on possession (56.9 percent) and on shots on goal (8-1) during the first half. The opening night crowd of 4,460 had chances to rise to their feet, but were often left disappointed as only one of their 15 shot attempts were on target.

“ We were able to move the ball around, and I think we had very good possessions all the way up three fourths of the field,” Toros coach Gerson Echeverry said. “In the final fourth or final third, we couldn’t make that final pass, couldn’t find the last guy. There were good looks that we had, but we weren’t able to put shots on target.”

The second-minute goal was a product of a pretty passing play finished by Fresno’s Arun Basuljevic after taking a give-and-go in stride from fellow midfielder Jackson.

Toros forward Carlos Small was the most dangerous attacking player for most of the first half. He pulled off skilled back-heel passes to give his teammates open space to work with.

Eventually, those moves with his back to the net were predicted by defenders as the element of surprise faded.

The second-year Toros coach explained he doesn’t want creative players to cut skill from their game, but he emphasized making the effective decision.

“ If you don’t pull the play off, it’s not a good play,” Echeverry said. “If you play simple and you pull it off, great. If you’re creative and you do something fancy and you pull it off, great. At this level it’s about making plays. However creative or beautiful or as dynamic as you want to make it seem, you still have to make the plays.”

Basuljevic was the master of play making again in the 60th minute when he was able to catch a chip pass from teammate Juan Pablo Caffa without breaking his run.

The New York native buried the chance and doubled Fresno’s advantage.

Six minutes later, the Toros nearly clawed back into the match after Michael Salazar drew a foul just inside of the penalty area. Maalique Foster was able to beat the keeper, but his shot hit iron and rolled out of play.

Echeverry said despite the loss, he saw thing in his team that he liked even better than a season ago when the team tied for the league lead in draws.

Another positive for RGV was the play of rookie Isidro Martinez. The former Brownsville Rivera standout who went on to play four years for UTRGV looked right at home as a starter for the Toros.

He said that starting is validation for his hard work. Martinez, who turned 22 on Friday, said he is adjusting well after playing NCAA soccer just a few months ago. He played 90 minutes in each of RGV’s first two matches.

“ It’s just the speed of play,” Martinez said. “I’m just trying to learn day-by-day and try to improve to showcase myself in front of the coaches and my teammates to get the best out of me and the best out of them as well.”

Echeverry said Martinez’s rise to starter has been a welcome revelation.

“I was surprised to be honest with you,” Echeverry said. “He was the Texas player of the year coming out of high school, so it’s not like he’s a nobody or a chum. He’s from this area so we knew of him it was more so I hadn’t seen him as much, I had just heard of him. And throughout the preseason he just kept doing little things better and better. There were a couple of injuries that gave him an opportunity and now he’s been one of the better players, if not the best player over the last two games. He’s just so good on the ball, dynamic. That’s one of the brightest spots that we have.”

The Toros will play their next two USL games on the road, against El Paso and Tulsa, before returning to HEB Park on April 6 to host New Mexico.

nmata@themonitor.com