SKC's Espinoza focused on Fire despite Olympic distraction

Roger Espinoza, SKC v CHI

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Roger Espinoza is still waiting to find out when he’ll be joining the Honduran Olympic team for London 2012. In the meantime, Sporting Kansas City’s rising star has plenty to keep him occupied.

The next item on his list: Friday’s home match against the Chicago Fire (8 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), a match that could put Sporting back atop the Eastern Conference standings should they win. And for Espinoza, that opportunity offers more motivation than the red card he picked up in Kansas City’s 2-1 away loss to the Fire on May 12.

“If I’m not happy, it’s not at them,” Espinoza told MLSsoccer.com after Thursday’s training session. “It’s not the team. It was the ref. The team didn’t give me the red card. We’ve just got to get the three points.”

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Espinoza, who was shown red by Jose Carlos Rivero after colliding with the Fire’s Sebastián Grazzini on a ball in the air, said the ejection wouldn’t affect how he plays against the Fire this time around. Grazzini won’t be available, Chicago manager Frank Klopas revealed this week.

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Espinoza was one of three overage players called up by coach Luis Fernando Suárez for Honduras, who open Olympic play on July 26 against Morocco.

His release for the tournament isn’t in question, manager Peter Vermes said on Monday.

“Obviously, we’re going to let him go,” Vermes said. “It’s a big honor for a player. I played in the Olympics myself.”

But with Sporting headed into a stretch of four league matches and playing in a US Open Cup semifinal between now and mid-July, Vermes wants to keep Espinoza here for as long as he can – a position Espinoza shares as well.

“We’re in the middle of the season and it’s hard for me to leave,” he said. “I’m excited to be in the Olympics, but this is the team who pays me. This is the team who trains me every day, so it’s kind of hard to leave them. I obviously want to be with the Olympic team, too. It’s just a tough situation, and not everybody can see that. I want to win the MLS Cup. I want to be here for every game I can.”

And while his teammates will miss him when he goes, they’re also glad Espinoza can keep building on his international experience – which also includes the 2010 World Cup – and adding layers to his game.

“He’s become a smart player,” goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen said. “When I came here, he was a very hard-working player. I think he added the smartness to his game. When I came here, he was a left back. … After the World Cup, we moved him up to midfield. He’s done an excellent job there, and I’m very proud of him that he’s going to the Olympics.

“Very happy for him, very sad for us.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.