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Sporting KC riding Espinoza hard ahead of Olympic call

Roger Espinoza banner

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Ordinarily, Roger Espinoza might be looking forward to some well-deserved time off.

But with only Saturday’s match at Columbus (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) remaining before his departure for Olympic duty, Sporting Kansas City plan to get all the mileage and minutes they can out of the Honduran midfielder before he heads to London.

“Roger has a great energy level within the team,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said during a Friday conference call. “He’s a great ball winner and he gets stronger as the game goes on. He has a great connection in the middle with [Graham] Zusi and [Paulo] Nagamura right now, but these are the things that go on with teams. You just have to be ready.”

And while Espinoza – one of Honduras’ three overage call-ups to the London Games and a veteran of the 2010 World Cup – is looking forward to his Olympic debut, he’s not looking past the Crew.

“That’s all I’m focused on right now,” he said Friday, “Columbus and the three points.”

Espinoza is coming off a 90-minute outing in Wednesday night’s 2-0 win at Philadelphia in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, a victory which propelled KC to a home final date with three-time defending champion Seattle on August 8. Four days before that, he went the full 90 – in triple-digit temperatures – in a scoreless home draw against Houston.

“I worked hard for this season,” Espinoza said. “Every offseason I work very hard, but this is one of my best seasons and I want to keep it up.”

With his tireless, box-to-box play, Espinoza is a major reason Sporting are in their first final in any competition since 2004 and hold a share the Eastern Conference lead with D.C. United.

“He’s in great form right now,” Vermes said on Friday.

But Espinoza said his run of form doesn’t necessarily give him an Olympic advantage against players who are on their summer breaks from their domestic leagues.

“I hope it does, but I don’t know,” Espinoza said. “A lot of the teams are playing friendlies right now and some of the guys just played in Euro. But hopefully it gives me an advantage and hopefully I’m in a little better shape.”

Honduras has group matches against Morocco on July 26, Spain on July 29 and Japan on August 1. That means Espinoza will miss at least three of Sporting’s league matches: next Wednesday at Houston, followed by home dates against New England on July 21 and the Crew on July 28.

Eyes on Olum

With center back Aurelien Collin suspended for the Open Cup final due to yellow-card accumulation, Sporting need Lawrence Olum to recover from a groin injury that has sidelined him since a 1-0 home loss to Chicago on June 29.

“We’ll just have to see how he’s doing,” Vermes said on Friday. “The good news is he’s on the good side of the injury – the recovery side.”

Collin picked up his third caution of the tournament in Wednesday night’s semifinal win over the Union.

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.