Posted on August 5, 2012
By Michael Lewis
NEWCASTLE, England — Roger Espinoza played a game of a lifetime on Saturday.
Whether it will mean a new life in the career of the Sporting Kansas City midfielder, it remains to be seen.
Espinoza played his heart out in an end-to-end display in Honduras’ 3-2 quarterfinal loss to gold-medal favorite Brazil in the men’s Olympic soccer tournament.
His performance was so overwhelming and so inspiring; the crowd at St. James’ Park gave him a standing ovation after he was given his marching orders for his second yellow card in the 90th minute.
“People were disappointed to see him leave the field, but I was not surprised to see the ovation from the crowd because they clearly recognize quality from him,” Honduras coach Luis Suarez said.
“We are used to seeing him play in such a way. He’s such an excellent player. He wears his heart on his sleeve. Today it was another show of his quality playing against tough opposition in the Olympics.”
Espinoza credited the crowd with pushing him to the limit. “In England, people clap for every good play you make,” he said. “It actually inspires you knowing that people are right behind you.”
The 25-year-old Espinoza did not hide his ambitions of playing in the English Premier League in the near future. His never-say-die style suits him for the league.
“That’s the plan, obviously,” he said. “I want to play in a top league and the English Premier League is one of my favorite leagues. If the chance arises, I wouldn’t hesitate to be here. I love the league. I watch it every morning in the USA.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that some of Espinoza’s international teammates perform over here –National Team and Olympic teammate Maynor Figueroa with Wigan Athletic and Wilson Palacios with Stoke City.
Asked if he would actively seek a move to England, Espinoza replied, “I wouldn’t have any problems with coming here. My contract is almost up, but I have to talk to my team, Kansas City. They are the ones who have the first option ssince I’ve been there for my whole career and they’ve taken care of me.”
It turned out to be a bittersweet match and ending to the Olympics for Espinoza. The Hondurans took on what essentially what will be the Brazilian National Team for the 2014 World Cup and gave it a scare and made them sweat, with some blood, sweat and tears of their own.
“It’s a very tough game, but you have to move on right away,” he said. “It was tough. I couldn’t believe it. I thought we had the team to win the game. Brazil had a lot of respect for us. You could see it in the game. We were going after them.”
Espinoza knew this would be the game of a lifetime, calling it the biggest and best game he has played in.
He was a dynamo on the field. He seemed to be wherever the ball was, whether Los Catrachos were on attack or defending. He set up the first goal and scored the second one.
“In a game of this caliber and to beat Brazil you have to bring everything,” he said. “It wasn’t enough for us. I feel with 10 men it was a lot tougher. The entire tournament I prepared myself to play well, especially last night. I made sure I was prepared. I ate well and slept well for one of the toughest games in my career and it ended up working out pretty well.”
A good hour after the team bus left for the hotel, Espinoza was the last Honduran player out of the stadium. Not that he was moping in the locker room about the loss or red card, but because he was delayed a good hour due to a drug test. He was selected to undergo a urine test. Given the effort he put out, it wasn’t surprising that Espinoza did not have any fluids left in his body.
“It took forever man,” he said. “I lost all my energy in the game. I was dehydrated and I was pissed off. Nothing would come out.”
When he did come out of doping control, Espinoza was wearing not his Honduran colors, but the shirt of Brazilian defender Romulo.
“Can’t complain,” he said with a smile. “I got a Brazilian shirt.”
A victory over Brazil would have been even better.
Photo: Roger Espinoza, with a Brazilian shirt on he traded for, getting interviewed in the mixed zone. Photo by Michael Lewis.
Categories: Central America, Honduras, Olympic Qualifying
Tags: 2012 London Olympics, English Premier League, Major League Soccer, Maynor Figuoera, Roger Espinoza, Sporting Kansas City, Stoke City, Wigan, Wigan Athletic, Wilson Palaciios