Posted on August 26, 2012
By Michael Lewis
While some Sporting Kansas City fans might be disappointed that New York Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry won’t play against their favorite team in a key Major League Soccer showdown on Sunday, that certainly doesn bother midfielder Roger Espinoza.
“It definitely helps us a lot knowing that Henry is not going to come,” Espinoza said in a phone interview from Kansas City on Friday.
Henry, the Red Bulls’ second leading goal-scorer (11) this season. will miss the match due to the birth of his son.
Asked if he thought there would be a drop in the Red Bulls, Espinoza replied, “Obviously, yeah. We’re talking about Henry, a player whose experience is probably than anybody on both teams. We know the teams he has played before and the experience that he has.
“But it’s also going to be difficult because we don’t know who’s going to play in his position. We don’t know the tendencies of whoever is going to play. It definitely helps us a lot knowing that Henry is not going to come. He’s a very good player, a very tough player to defend at the same time. I think they’re definitely missing a huge part of the team.”
At stake is the top spot in the Eastern Conference. A Kansas City (14-7-4, 46 points) would extend the hosts’ hold on the lead. A Red Bulls’ (13-7-5, 44), would propel New York into the lead by a point. KC would retain its two-point advantage with a tie.
“It’s what people are looking for in these type of games,” Espinoza said. “We haven’t played a lot of games this year like that. This is one of those games where New York is playing pretty well. They’re none too well on the road, but obviously they are doing well at home. This is a game that can be very tough. We’ll be ready. It’s very good for us that we will be home with the home crowd.
“We also haven’t done too well at home. What I would like to do. I wish we have done a lot better. It’s going to be one of those games where we have to play well.”
Kansas City is 7-3-2 at home, while the Red Bulls are 4-7-2 on the road.
This will be the first of three confrontations between the teams over the next eight weeks. The Red Bulls will host KC on Wednesday, Sept. 19 and on Saturday, Oct. 20. So, the results of those matches should go a long way in determine which team wins the conference crown and gets home-field advantage in the playoffs.
“We’re probably going to be playing for first place in the next few weeks,” Espinoza said. “It just makes the league better and makes the fans love it a little bit more. We’re excited that we have this game at home with the home crowd. It’s going to be a very good game.”
Continuity has been the key to KC’s success this season, Espinoza said.
“Over the years, we haven’t really changed the team that much,” he said. “We went through a tough time last year. We didn’t want to start the same way. When we went into the off-season, we made sure we worked hard so that didn’t happen again. Having a good start helped us. When you do well at the beginning of the season, it makes the season a lot easier. A lot of the players know each other and know their tendencies. We have added players who have helped the team here and there.”
Kansas City has played well enough to capture its first Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup crown. After starring for Honduras in the London Olympics, Espinoza joined the club in time for the cup final win over the three-time defending champion Seattle Sounders on Aug. 15.
“It was great, it was great,” he said. “I have been here five years and I haven’t won anything. Came close to the Open Cup, played in the semifinals of the MLS Cup, too. It was time for us to do well and win a championship. It was good for the fans. They were supporting us ever since I’ve been here. Now, we had the opportunity to be in the MLS Cup and at home against Houston we lost.
“This year we had a little pressure in the Open Cup in the beginning. We wanted to win. We know we could host the finals, with the ownership we have and working hard to host the championship at home. We have to work hard and do it for them and the fans. When you had the finals in Kansas City, there was no other way but to win the game. They did a very good job. It was special for everyone in the city, for the families and for the players. It’s definitely something that we’re proud of.”
Transitioning from the Olympics back to league play has not been difficult for Espinoza. Though the Hondurans were eliminated by eventual silver medalist Brazil in the quarterfinals, Espinoza returned home on a personal high. He played exceptionally well, especially in the 3-2 loss to Brazil in Newcastle, England. Espinoza set up the first goal and scored the second (and go-ahead goal) before 10-man Honduras fell. He himself was red-carded in 90th minute. As Espinoza left the field, he was given a standing ovation by the fans at St. James’ Park for his outstanding effort.
Espinoza has used that Olympic energy in league play.
“It has been a lot easier, being in this type of games, being in very tough games,” he said.
He said the Honduran Olympic Team (an Under-23 team with three overage players) had “very good players. They’re already adults, and playing very well. Almost every player on the team are starters for the first team. Every game was very tough. . . . We had a lot of pressure. You knew your whole country was right behind you and you don’t want to do bad. You want to do well and represent your country well. It was a lot of pressure.
“Being there, it makes me more calm. I came to Kansas City to play in the final against Seattle, I feel like I wasn’t nervous. I was ready. I came from a tough game. That was a tough pressure game. I came here and felt more relaxed. I was more confident to do things well. It was a positive for me.”
Another positive for Espinoza could be a future in the English Premier League. Observers and and fans were impressed with his performance for the Central American side, feeling that Newcastle United would be a good fit.
Espinoza said that no one has contact him personally.
“I’ve heard a lot of rumors,” he said. “I leave that up to my agent to work on that. If there’s a possibility, then it’s a possibility. Who doesn’t want to play in England? Who doesn’t want to play in the English Premier League? It’s a great league. We all know what the Premier League is about. It’s just going to make you better as a player if you make a move over there.
“Right now I am in Kansas City and it is what it is. I like the way things are going here and I want to win MLS Cup. So, I’ve got to worry about here. If there is anything, I’m sure my agent will come to me and talk about it.”
Photo: Roger Espinoza (wearing a Brazilian shirt after a loss to the South Americans in the Olympics): “Having a good start helped us. When you do well at the beginning of the season, it makes the season a lot easier.” Photo by Michael Lewis
Categories: Central America, Honduras
Tags: 2012 London Olympics, Eastn Conference, English Premier League, Major League Soccer, New York Red Bulls, Newcastle United, Roger Espinoza, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City