The first ever South Texas Derby between San Antonio FC and Rio Grande Valley FC Toros took place on Saturday at Toyota Field, a tight match with tackles flying in and no quarter given from either side. Ultimately, RGV FC came out on top with a stoppage time winner from Rob Lovejoy.
“2-0 down, we had a lot of energy in the last 15 minutes and at that point we thought we could go on and win it,” said San Antonio FC coach Darren Powell post-match. “But the game got stretched and obviously conceding a goal late like that is disappointing.”
Obviously, RGV FC coach Wilmer Cabrera was in higher spirits.
“Everyone wants to see two strong teams battling. We gave ourselves the advantage, and this is a good lesson for us … the reaction from San Antonio was very good,” Cabrera said. “We also showed that we are a strong team, and we made the chance and won the game.”
San Antonio FC started brightly, going on the attack and taking advantage of a loaded midfield thanks to a slightly different formation. San Antonio started with a 4-5-1 formation, with a heavy shift on the right, looking to unlock a perceived weakness in the RGV FC back line. San Antonio attempted two early shots, both wide of goal.
A great nutmeg from Rafael Castillo, standing in as captain, played Shawn Chin through on goal. But Devin Perales was quick off his line and came out well, denying Chin’s shot. After a quiet period, a flowing counter-attack gave San Antonio their next chance in the 25th minute, but RGV got back just in time to block the ball into the box.
It was a typical derby, tight and hard-fought, which made chances hard to come by as the sides often fought for possession in midfield. RGV FC’s first real chance came in the 26th minute when Mauro Manotas, on loan from Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo, let off a powerful shot from outside the box, sending it high and wide of goal.
Some scrappy defending kept the match scoreless as Memo Rodriguez tried to work his way into the San Antonio FC box. But the San Antonio defenders wisely remained on their feet, preventing Rodriguez from turning his man and getting the ball clear.
Jose Escalante tried an audacious effort in the 33rd minute to open the scoring as he spotted Matt Cardone, starting due to Josh Ford’s illness, off his line. Escalante looked to chip Cardone from the edge of the box, but his effort floated too wide.
As the half wore on, the rivalry nature of the derby started to take hold, with players from both sides flying into challenges. That forced the referee to start calling more fouls, adding tension as both benches erupted whenever a call went against them.
San Antonio could have been up 1-0 in the 39th minute when Jason Johnson played a ball around to Chin. But the striker slightly over-ran it, still getting away a decent shot with his back foot, which was saved by Perales, keeping it scoreless at the break.
A horrible defensive lapse gave RGV the first chance of the half, as Bobby Moseley’s clearance went right to the RGV man. That allowed Rodriguez to play in Escalante whose shot was denied by a great Cardone save. The corner nearly resulted in another chance for RGV as the ball fell out to their midfield, but the effort went wide, allowing a clearing goal-kick.
A great switch of play opened up the RGV defense, allowing Carlos Alvarez to lay the ball off to Greg Cochrane out wide. That allowed Cochrane to cross in for Chin, but the RGV defense swarmed, clearing the ball and denying San Antonio yet again.
With the match still scoreless it got increasingly physical, which RGV took advantage of by going down easily, earning free-kicks. That got San Antonio FC frustrated, and Powell often came off his seat to remonstrate with the official.
San Antonio had their first clear chance of the half in the 66th minute after Chin broke the offside trap thanks to a perfect ball over the top. The RGV defense covered well, getting a block on and sending it out for a corner that was cleared, but only as far as Sebastien Thuriere, whose effort went just wide of goal.
The deadlock was finally broken when RGV FC snuck a ball just past Cardone in the 69th minute. Lovejoy was afforded space to shoot, a shot that seemed to slowly dribble past Cardone and into the back of the net.
Just two minutes later RGV FC had doubled their lead when Manotas was afforded too much space in the box, allowing him to dribble and take a shot that easily passed Cardone.
Now two goals down, San Antonio FC were forced to respond, and that they did, with plenty of attacks up the right. That allowed Manolo Sanchez to run onto a ball and smash it under Perales after Cochrane cut it back for him, pulling San Antonio back into the match.
A ball over the top from Moseley to Chin nearly led to San Antonio leveling the score, but it was just beyond Chin who couldn’t quite pull it down, allowing RGV to clear it.
But San Antonio FC didn’t stop, and some poor defense from RGV FC pulled the match back to level terms. The Toros defense allowed the ball to bounce in the box, which allowed Chin a simple finish for the equalizer.
“Shawn (Chin) is an energizer bunny” said Powell after the match, “and if he keeps that up, he’s going to worry a lot of defenses.”
There were scary moments when the clock ticked past 90 minutes when a head clash between Stephen McCarthy and Dzenan Catic had Catic out on the ground. Luckily, he was able to walk from the field of play, getting a round of applause from the crowd as he did so.
“He (Catic) is in pain right now,” said Cabrera after the match. “We need to be monitoring this situation … when you hit your head it hurts a lot.”
Stoppage time was tense, with San Antonio FC having a free-kick which could have given them the winner. Castillo sent the ball in for Chin, but it just couldn’t find him, allowing Perales to claim it and keep a point for RGV FC.
Another San Antonio FC defensive error allowed RGV to steal all three points as Cochrane’s ball was intercepted, allowing Lovejoy to run at goal and shoot a perfectly placed ball just out of the reach of Cardone to seal the win.
Top image: SAFC Defender Bobby Moseley fights for position during the USL soccer match between the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros and San Antonio FC, Saturday, May 7, 2016, at Toyota Field in San Antonio, Texas. Photo by Darren Abate/USL.