Rodriguez returns, helps RGV FC Toros to first win of season against Orange County SC

EDINBURG — Midfielder Memo Rodriguez is no stranger to the RGV FC Toros. He played all 30 games during the franchise’s inaugural season in 2016, then returned from the Houston Dynamo to make four appearances last season.

Still, being down in the Valley for his first action of the year on Wednesday, Rodriguez was surrounded by unfamiliar teammates. Of the Toros’ starting 11, only midfielder Todd Wharton was a regular fixture on the 2016 or 2017 rosters.

“There’s a lot of new faces, but that’s something we have to get adapted to as you go,” Rodriguez said. “It was great playing on the soccer field. Soccer is the same all around the world. So coming in, the guys put in a shift and made it easy for me.”

Rodriguez finished a cross from fellow Dynamo assignment player Mac Steeves in the 36th minute, propelling the latest iteration of RGV FC to its first win of the year with a 2-0 result against Orange County SC at H-E-B Park.

The new-look Toros had been 0-3-2 to start the 2018 season before knocking off an OC side that had won three straight matches by a combined 11-0 margin to hold the USL’s best goal differential.

“Relief, and I think it was just a sense of anxiety,” first-year Toros coach Gerson Echeverry said of securing the season’s first victory. “Today, against a very offensively potent team, the guys dug down, and they just grinded teeth and worked their tails off, and this is the reward.”

Steeves triggered the cross that led to the game-winning goal from the right side of the pitch. After a throw-in, Steeves evaded a double-team by putting the ball past his defender’s left shoulder and running around his right side to retrieve it. With a third defender closing from the inside, Steeves sent a driven cross into the penalty box. Rodriguez chested the ball down on a short hop and then finished it into the left side of the net with his left foot from about 6 yards away.

“It was a little bit of a difficult finish, but thankfully, I made it,” Rodriguez said.

Steeves, who was selected No. 43 overall by the Dynamo in the 2018 MLS Superdraft, was making his first professional start and notched his first professional point.

“That’s been a dream of mine forever. So I’m definitely excited,” Steeves said. “Obviously, being up with the first team, it’s tough. It’s very competitive. To be down here and help out and get some minutes, it’s definitely good. It’s much needed, as well.”

Racking up points with the Toros is much more customary for Rodriguez. He netted three goals in just four matches with the team last season after scoring six goals with seven assists during RGV’s inaugural season in 2016.

“Those guys trained with some of the top players in the MLS day in and day out,” Echeverry said of Steeves and Rodriguez. “Right now, they’re itching to get games in the MLS. We’re fortunate enough to have this hybrid going that we can have some of those guys. … They came in, and they made an influence in this game.”

Entering Wednesday, the Toros had on four occasions let second-half leads slip away to remain winless through five matches.

RGV struggled to maintain possession against OC, holding just 34.2 percent for the game, but the Toros put seven shots on target compared to Orange County’s two. Echeverry said the Toros were content to concede the possession advantage as long as they were able to plug holes defensively and find opportunities on the counterattack. He added that closing games has been a major theme in recent training sessions, and RGV came through in that regard Wednesday.

“There were times they played very intelligently, holding the lines and moving the lines together. I think there were a couple times that were just will,” Echeverry said. “Hopefully, these guys learn from it, going over this hump, and they feel and they taste how good this feels, that they won’t be afraid to empty themselves.”

Substitute forward Aldo Quintanilla iced the match with a goal in the 89th minute. Todd Wharton poked the ball free from a crowd of players, and Quintanilla took possession, dribbled around a defender, carried just inside the top of the penalty box and then drilled a shot into the lower-left corner of the net.

“Aldo was hungry, obviously,” Echeverry said. “When you have a first-team guy come in and you have to come off the bench, you want to make a statement. His ultimate goal is to be up there.”