Sporting's Espinoza turns page from one dream to another

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Roger Espinoza’s quest for an Olympic gold medal is over. Now, fresh off his star turn ­at the London Games, Sporting Kansas City’s Honduran midfielder turns his attention to his club’s hunt for US Open Cup glory.

Espinoza arrived back in Kansas City on Sunday, a day after nine-man Honduras were eliminated 3-2 by Brazil in the quarterfinals and three days before Sporting play in their first Cup final since the 2004 Kansas City Wizards won it all.

“After the game against Brazil, obviously I was sad because of the way it ended,” Espinoza told reporters after Monday’s training session. “Then, right away, I was like, ‘Well, I’ve got the Cup final in KC. I can’t complain about it. I’ve got to get there as soon as possible.’”

His club, thinned by injury in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s home final (9 pm ET, GolTV) against three-time defending champion Seattle, is glad to have him home.

“It’s good to have him back and part of the team,” manager Peter Vermes said on Monday. “There’s other things, not just on the field, that he brings to the team.”

Espinoza’s Olympic play drew worldwide attention – he trended worldwide on Twitter after the quarterfinal loss – and for good reason. He had a goal and an assist against Brazil, and also had an assist when Los Catrachos eliminated Spain from medal contention with a 1-0 shocker in the group stage. Beyond that, he showed off the box-to-box energy and gritty play that has marked his career in Kansas City.

“He should be confident about his play and his team’s play as well,” Vermes said. “We’ll just hope he steps off of that and goes even higher.”

That’s the goal, Espinoza said.

“I have to do better, every game I play,” he said. “Sometimes I play a game and think, ‘Well, if I got to this level I can’t drop back now.’”

He had to leave the Brazil match early, after taking his second yellow card close to the end, but received a standing ovation from the crowd at St. James’ Park in Newcastle.

“I definitely did not expect that to happen,” he said. “At first, I thought they were clapping because they were happy I got the red card. Then it looked like they didn’t, because they were celebrating as I was walking out. That started to change my mind, that they were really clapping for me.”

His Olympic achievements have also led to speculation that Espinoza could be headed to a European league, perhaps as early as this summer’s transfer window. But while acknowledging that he would like to play at in a top league, Espinoza also said his full focus will be on Kansas City for as long as he wears Sporting Blue.

“Now I’m thinking about Kansas City,” he said. “I just want to win something. I didn’t win a gold medal, but for sure now I want to win the silverware here.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.