Seattle Sounders FC 2 returns to the road once again this weekend for a USL Western Conference clash with Rio Grande Valley FC on Saturday, June 9. The Rave Green will look to maintain their momentum from the massive 3-0 win over LA Galaxy II, which earned Irvin Parra USL Player of the Week honors and catapulted S2 into the USL Power Rankings.
Rio Grande Valley FC, an affiliate of the Houston Dynamo, plays a very different style from its parent club. While the Dynamo tend to cede possession and look to hit on the counter, the Toros love to keep the ball and build attacks out of the back. They have a pass-completion percentage nearly 10 points higher than S2’s, completing 46 more passes per game than the Rave Green.
The Toros have lined up in a 4-2-3-1 for each of their last three matches, in which the team collected a single point, with a markedly different playing style in each affair. This trend holds true for a majority of RGV’s matches this season. One game they’ll have the wingers constantly swap places, the next they’ll station them high and wide out on the flanks. Sometimes the outside backs constantly overlap, other times they’ll tuck inside and provide an outlet in possession.
One constant for RGV FC is the play of midfielder Eric Bird. While he’s an incredibly versatile player — he’s lined up as a No. 6, No. 10 and No. 9 in the last three matches alone — his output on the pitch is rather consistent. No matter where he lines up, Bird will set the tempo of the match with his high-volume passing and an uncanny ability for winning the ball back on defense. Bird leads the team in assists (2), is second in goals (2) and chances created (10) and is remarkably solid defensively in terms of interceptions (10) and winning tackles (18).
Ultimately, the Toros’ strength lies in midfield. Since the roles of the outside backs and wide midfielders vary from game to game, RGV FC relies on its the three-man central midfield to provide the foundation for defense and attack. Much like S2, the Toros’ double-pivot at the base of midfield often determines the success of the overall team. If the Rave Green attacking midfielders and forwards can find gaps between RGV’s defensive and midfield lines, they’ll generate plenty of high-quality chances.
Here are three tactical matchups to watch.
WIN BALLS IN THE AIR
When it comes to crosses, the Toros are a bit of a conundrum. They generate a ton of chances in the attack with service from the flanks but struggle to defend when opposing teams pump crosses into the box. S2 will need massive performances from center backs Sam Rogers and Rodrigue Ele, as well as the likes of Parra and David Olsen.
Rogers, 18, spent most of his time in Sounders Academy as a ball-playing defensive midfielder who relied on his soccer IQ and positioning, but he’s developed into a well-rounded center back prospect with S2. Saturday’s clash with RGV FC will serve as an excellent litmus test for his progress. Meanwhile, Olsen’s ability to win headers from his trademark back-post runs will prove crucial if S2 is to return from Texas with three points.
The Toros are coached by two former S2 staff members, Junior Gonzalez and Brett Uttley. Both coaches served as members of S2 head coach Ezra Hendrickson’s coaching staff for the 2016 USL season before joining RGV FC. Furthermore, both coaches worked extensively with the Sounders Academy staff and will be intimately familiar with the likes of Rogers and Lorenzo Ramos.
RUN THE CHANNELS
Part of the reason RGV FC struggles to defend crosses is the spacing among the back four, particularly the gap between the left-sided center back and the left back. In the squad’s most recent outing, a 3-2 loss to Reno 1868 FC, all three assists were through balls that split the center back and left back, leading to high-quality chances from close range. This is a perfect matchup for new signing Charles Renken, as he has the pace and spatial awareness to make darting runs in behind to latch onto through balls. And with two assists from his first two matches, expect Renken to create plenty of opportunities for his new teammates.