EDINBURG — There were no fans allowed inside H-E-B Park on Sunday night as the RGV FC Toros returned to action in Edinburg for the first time since the USL Championship restarted its 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But just beyond the South side fence of H-E-B Park, a few loyal RGV FC fans stood waving Toros flags, cheering their team on. And throughout the match, Toros fans were shown on the big screen of the H-E-B Park scoreboard watching the game from their homes as they were connected through ZOOM.
The Toros rewarded their fans by scoring a thrilling equalizer during the 94th minute for a 1-1 draw against bitter rival San Antonio FC in this year’s first edition of the South Texas Derby, the series between the two clubs separated by 235 miles.
“We have a group of fans that is amazing; they give us so much energy. It’s not so fun for us playing at home in an empty stadium. However, we heard them when we were on that side and that’s great,” RGV FC head coach Gerson Echeverry said. “I know sometimes you hear about, ‘We don’t have as many fans.’ However, the ones that we do are extremely rowdy and loud and just passionate, and it’s fantastic. Even though they weren’t allowed in, they were still watching us and being able to follow us, even from a distance. Our guys heard them, they acknowledged them at the end of the game
And RGV FC’s goal during the 94th minute, a rocket off the left foot of Taiberson Ruen Nunes that soared into the upper left corner of the SAFC goal, also meant a lot to the Toros.
Just three minutes into the match, San Antonio FC’s Cristian Parano streaked past the RGV FC defense as he received a pass off the head of Luis Solignac and found himself with Toros goalkeeper Paul Blanchette standing in his way. Parano sent the ball low and under the legs of Blanchette to give SAFC an early 1-0 lead.
Despite trailing the next 87 minutes of the match, the Toros kept chipping away. In six minutes of added time, RGV FC was rewarded five corner kicks due to their attacking and pressure.
The Toros nearly scored three goals during the stretch, but the one that found the back of the net was the strike from Taiberson, which ignited a celebration from the Toros’ side. The draw against their rivals gives the Toros their first point of the season with a 0-2-1 record (1 point).
“It showed personality. That was the disappointing part for me from last week (a 1-0 loss against El Paso Locomotive FC) is that there were moments where we didn’t show personality, and no matter what, you have to keep fighting,” Echeverry said. “It’s a team that is going to fight to the end. And win, lose or draw, we have to fight to the end. This effort, this resiliency that these guys showed was outstanding and I’m extremely proud. Obviously we wanted to get three points against a bitter rival, but we tied it, we hit three posts, their keeper made one good save on Taiberson, we had a couple near misses, so I feel this is something we can build from.”
Taiberson and UTRGV alum Kyle Edwards, who made his debut with RGV FC, tied for the team-lead with five shots apiece as the Toros outshot SAFC 20-12.
“It was wonderful,” Edwards said of RGV FC’s win in his debut. “I mean, if you look at the players, and the pace that we have with the outside players, I think we need to utilize that. That’s what we did. We just kept going and going and eventually we got the goal and that was good.”
The Toros have their work cut out for them the rest of the week as they have two more scheduled games to play for a total of three games in just seven days. RGV FC has road games at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Oklahoma City FC, and 8 p.m. Saturday in a rematch of the South Texas Derby against San Antonio FC.
RGV FC is scheduled to return to H-E-B Park on Aug. 1 against FC Tulsa. Whether or not fans will be allowed to attend the Toros next home match remains to be determined.
Toros team president Ron Patel said in a statement earlier this month RGV FC is doing everything in its power to improve on and off the field to create a safe environment for fans.
“When we do welcome fans back to H-E-B Park, it will be because we are confident we can deliver what they deserve, which is top-quality soccer action in a fun, safe, and secure environment,” Patel said.