The USL Championship added a fun little wrinkle to the 2021 season with the introduction of interconference play. For the first time, Miami FC will get a taste of Western Conference competition when they host Rio Grande Valley FC at Riccardo Silva Stadium on Sunday night.
After an impressive performance which led to a 2-1 victory over Charlotte last weekend, can Miami (3-2-0, 9 points) string together consecutive victories for the first time this season? They will have their work cut out for them with a number of key players called up for international duty.
Not only that, but the hosts will face a revamped Toros squad that appears to be poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Know Your Enemy: Rio Grande Valley FC
Rio Grande Valley FC (3-1-1, 10 points) enters the weekend tied atop the Mountain Division standings after a hot start. They opened up the season with three consecutive wins, including impressive victories over New Mexico and San Antonio. After a tough 1-0 loss to El Paso, the Toros bounced back to earn a 1-1 draw at San Antonio last weekend.
On May 13, the club sent shockwaves around the league when they announced the abrupt resignation of club president Ron Patel. According to the official statement, Patel–who was hired back in February 2020–left “to pursue other opportunities.” Under Patel, the club took a major step forward that brought technical independence to the club for the first time after restructuring their partnership agreement with the Houston Dynamo.
Under new Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera, the Toros have established themselves as one of the toughest defenses in the league. They pride themselves on being very tough to score against, with goalkeeper Tyler Deric posting two clean sheets in five games. No team has scored more than one goal in a game against the Toros this season.
Defenders Grant Robinson and Adrian Diz Pe have both earned USL Championship Team of the Week honors this season for the Toros. And midfielder Wan Kuzain, who joined the club this offseason after three seasons with Sporting Kansas City, has one goal on seven shots.
Keys To A Miami Victory
Miami FC’s depth will be tested Sunday. They will be without five players who were called up for international duty–the most among all USL clubs. Among the missing will be forwards Billy Forbes (Turks & Caicos) and Lamar Walker (Jamaica), midfielder Speedy Williams (Jamaica), and defender Othello Bah (Liberia).
In their absence, the Blue and Orange will rely heavily on the combination of Ariel Martinez and Cristiano François to carry the load up front. They’ll need to find a way to crack RGVFC’s taut defense. Both have been pivotal in Miami’s attack so far this season, creating chances and putting pressure on defenders. But neither of them have found the score sheet through five games. If Miami wants to steal a victory, one of them will need to find the back of the net.
Sunday’s match will be a battle of the keepers between RGVFC’s Deric and Miami’s Connor Sparrow. So far this season, both keepers have recorded 17 saves apiece. Sparrow will have little margin for error if he wants to help give his club a positive result.
Solid defense and shutdown goalkeeping have helped Miami FC and Rio Grande Valley FC get off to solid starts. I’m anticipating a low-scoring affair where one goal could very well be the difference. The big question is: Can Miami play with the kind of attacking speed that has given them success?
The Toros have gone toe-to-toe with the best clubs the Mountain Division has to offer and haven’t blinked. They are a confident bunch that knows how to shut down opposing attackers. If Miami was at full strength, there’s a good chance they could have come away with a statement win. However, with so many of Miami’s key offensive weapons missing, it’s hard to see how they break through.
Rio Grande Valley FC 1 – Miami FC 0
WHO: Miami FC (3-2-0, 9 pts) vs. Rio Grande Valley FC (3-1-1, 10 pts)
WHEN: Sunday, June 6 // 6:30 pm EST
WHERE: Riccardo Silva Stadium (Miami, FL)
- Miami FC – None
- Rio Grande Valley FC – None