Workhorse Espinoza raising his game for Sporting KC

Roger Espinoza of Sporting KC

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – You know that office catchphrase, “Work smarter, not harder?” Roger Espinoza is doing both these days for Sporting Kansas City.

The veteran midfielder has been a box-to-box threat in Sporting’s first two games, blowing up opponents’ plays in the middle and defensive thirds and then joining in the attack up front.

“In D.C., he had a shot on goal, and the goalkeeper saved it and they cleaned it away and it went up to the middle, and he won the 50-50 ball in the middle,” goalkeeper and team captain Jimmy Nielsen said after last weekend’s 3-0 win over New England. “That’s a different class. That’s amazing.”

Espinoza hits the post on open chance

That sort of all-out effort marks Espinoza’s entire game, manager Peter Vermes said.

“He’s going to win that ball back and do everything he can with it,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “It’s kind of like a dog with his bone. He’s running after it. That’s what it is with him.

"He wants to accomplish whatever it is he has to do, whether it’s winning it back or going to goal. He wants to make that great final pass. He wants to get a good shot on goal. He’s a perseverance guy, perseveres through everything.”

But along with that hard work from the fifth-year pro and Honduran international, Vermes has also seen headier play from the player once dubbed “Red Card Roger.” (Espinoza was sent off twice in his rookie season, but has seen red only once since then.)

“He understands his role and he understands his responsibilities within that role,” Vermes said. “I think he’s really figured out how to take the qualities that he has and make them strengths within his position. Last year he really started to come on with it, and I don’t think that’s left him. He’s just starting off the year with it.”

Espinoza has long envisioned himself playing a versatile role for his club, even when he was asked to be more of a defensive player.

“I try to do both sides of the ball,” Espinoza said at the team’s annual media day. “This year, I tried to make sure I was more in shape, and every day I keep working so I can do that. I like to defend a lot, and I do that when the team needs me to – and I like to go on the attack, too.”

Espinoza has just two career goals, but his more offensive mindset has been apparent in Sporting’s first two matches. He has taken six shots, tying him for third with striker C.J. Sapong, and just missed scoring against New England when he hit the crossbar from distance.

“I haven’t scored too many goals, but I know they’re going to come,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll come soon. I just want to help the team in any way I can.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com. Write to him at steve@artkc365.com.