The first edition of the South Texas Derby in May 2016 provided a launching point for what's become one of the best rivalries in the league over the past five years. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
Since both joining the USL Championship in 2016, there has been no foe that either Rio Grande Valley FC or San Antonio FC have squared off with more than each other.
The South Texas Derby has seen 20 games played between the sides, and regardless of circumstance the series has historically been a tight one. San Antonio holds a narrow edge with seven wins to Rio Grande Valley’s six, with a further seven games having ended all square. SAFC also holds a narrow edge in the all-time goal differential at 26 goals to 25 over the Toros.
On Saturday night at Toyota Field, the teams will meet in the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2021 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by TwinSpires, with each ready to take their shot at a first trip to the Western Conference Final in their respective histories. Ahead of that encounter (9 p.m. ET | ESPN+), here are five memorable prior editions of what’s been one of the more heated rivalries in the Championship over the past five years.
If you were looking for an encapsulation of how the rivalry between San Antonio and RGVFC can throw out the form book and logic, you need look no further than their second meeting in the 2019 season. Sitting with a chance to claim the regular season series for the first time since they first met three years prior after the Toros had taken a 3-1 win on home turf in May, things weren’t looking positive for the visitors as by halftime they trailed by two goals and were down a player after Alejandro Fuenmayor’s record card in the 31st minute.
But despite being down to 10, Rio Grande Valley found a way to flip the script in the second half. Second-half substitute Carlos Small struck six minutes after coming on to halve the deficit with 15 minutes to go, and then five minutes later misfortune struck for the hosts as Ebenezer Ockon’s sliding challenge to try and deny a second chance for Small ended up as an own goal, earning the Toros a share of the spoils.
The inaugural season of the South Texas Derby saw Rio Grande Valley hold sway over their rivals, winning three out of four meetings including a 3-0 win on the final day of the regular season that closed out any slip hopes San Antonio had of joining the Toros in the postseason.
The following spring, San Antonio got its first chance at revenge in the opening weekend of the 2017 campaign as they made the trip to be the first league visitor to the Toros’ newly opened H-E-B Park, and they spoiled the party for the hosts. A goal after 15 minutes by Billy Forbes proved the difference as Kyle Murphy hit the post in the second half for the Toros among a collection of chances that went astray. SAFC’s Matt Cardone recorded a four-save shutout, and San Antonio took its first win of the series.
Midway through the 2018 season, San Antonio was locked in the middle of a postseason battle but had lost four in a row as it arrived in South Texas, while the Toros were hoping to claim their first back-to-back victories of the season after taking a win on the road in their last encounter. Things were looking good for the hosts to that end as they took the lead in just the third minute thanks to Jesus Enriquez, a goal that could have provided a good omen for RGVFC, which had never lost a South Texas Derby in which it had scored first prior.
After holding the lead until halftime, however, the Toros were unable to make it stand out as a trio of excellent goals by the visitors turned the tide. Lance Laing’s outstanding curling finish put the hosts ahead just past the hour-mark, while Ever Guzman – who leads all players with five goals in the series – capped the win with a deft lob inside the final 10 minutes to give SAFC its first comeback victory against its rivals.
As it entered a new era of independence to start this season, Rio Grande Valley FC had shown it wasn’t going to be the same side from recent seasons as it opened the campaign with three consecutive victories that included a 2-1 win at H-E-B Park against its biggest rival in their first encounter of the season. In the rematch in San Antonio two weeks later, the Toros again left their mark as a resilient defensive display gave way to arguably the most spectacular goal in the series’ history.
After absorbing some early pressure, San Antonio began to take control of the game midway through the first half and was rewarded when Marcus Epps opened the scoring in the five minutes before halftime. Despite recording 11 shots on target out of their 15 shots overall, however, the hosts were unable to add to their lead thanks to RGVFC goalkeeper Tyler Deric, and with a minute to go Juan Carlos Azocar’s bicycle kick finish grabbed a point for the Toros.
The first edition of the South Texas Derby might still be the best we’ve seen in its history. The expansion sides met for the first time at Toyota Field for a game that exploded into life in the final 20 minutes as the Toros gained a two-goal lead, then let it slip away as San Antonio leveled before Robbie Lovejoy’s game-winner in second-half stoppage time provided the exclamation point to a thrilling contest.
The game was scoreless midway through the second half before Lovejoy – brought on as a second-half substitute – broke the deadlock with a low finish from the top of the penalty area to the bottom-left corner of the net. Three minutes later, Mauro Manotas doubled the lead off a low cross by Leo Ayala as the Toros appeared to be in control, but then momentum shifted to the hosts. Manolo Sanchez struck first in the 79th minute as he powered home a shot off a feed from Greg Cochrane, and then five minutes later Shawn Chin headed home from close range after a long throw-in from the left wasn’t dealt with by the Toros’ defense.
As it appeared the first game of the rivalry was set to end even, however, Lovejoy struck again. Seizing on a loose pass in midfield, he drove forward in the right channel and with space to shoot delivered a precise finish from 25 yards to the near post in stoppage time to get the series off to a flying start.