EDINBURG — The July 11 restart date of the United Soccer League (USL) Championship’s 2020 season is just about two weeks away, and the RGV FC Toros have been steadfast in their preparation for their return to the pitch.
The USL initially announced the decision to suspend play March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the Toros were forced to become innovative with their home training while not being able to access the team’s facility, and just recently were allowed to return to limited individual style practices at the team’s facility, but to maintain social distancing.
But on Thursday, the Toros finally returned to full squad training, the first time players have been allowed to practice and compete with and against each other since the pandemic put things on pause.
RGV FC head coach Gerson Echeverry said he was happy to be back out on the pitch and working together with his full squad.
“It was fantastic; I think the most important thing for our players (is that they) had big smiles. They had the chance to not only play, but to compete,” Echeverry said. “What we did was what we weren’t able to do for the last four and a half months was play. So, we basically got two goalkeepers and we made three teams and we just played and competed. So just to get that out of our system because as you know with the restrictions it was one person in a quarter of the field, then two guys, and having to keep your distance. It’s not like you could just dribble at somebody, defend or any of that stuff. So, yesterday for the first time we were able to do that. It was fun for the players, it was good for us to see and it looked a lot better than what we anticipated, to be quite honest. It was good, we are happy for that.”
Echeverry also said the level of fitness — not just for the Toros but for the league at large — is concerning because of the limited training and injury risk that comes along with the adjusted season. Over the next couple weeks of full squad practices, he hopes his team can build chemistry quickly so the Toros can return to a high level of play.
“Right now, the most we were able to do was three people prior to this. There was no competition, there was no defending, nothing. So, it is just how fast we can form some relationships with some guys and being able to start looking like a team again, which takes a little longer,” Echeverry said. “The good thing is that we have some guys coming back from last year, we had a pretty good preseason earlier in the year, but it’s just a matter of how fast these relationships can start forming and who can play with each other a little bit more. And obviously, with a couple of guys we are looking to sign, it’ll be quite interesting.”
With a 16-game season on deck and all 35 teams broken down into eight different groups in the USL’s adjusted format, there will be little room for error for teams aiming to make the playoffs. Along with the RGV FC Toros in Group D are rivals San Antonio FC, Austin Bold FC, OKC Energy FC and FC Tulsa. Only two teams from each group will advance to the postseason, where the Toros have not made an appearance since their inaugural season in 2016.
“We like our chances, just like anybody else at the beginning of the season. We are all extremely confident and positive of what we are capable of doing,” Echeverry said. “We have not seen the other teams. Obviously, we had a scrimmage against San Antonio where we were able to see them a little bit in the preseason. You look at some of the names of the other teams and who they have, it’s not going to be easy, in particular when you have such a short field and short amount of games that you have, every point matters. … It’s going to be quite interesting. What I do like is that we get some extra substitutions and stuff like that so the young legs that we have, we are hoping can recover and put them to play at a high press like what we want to do.”
The USL is set to release the official schedule for the 2020 USL season in the next week.