Roger Espinoza left South Africa before the group stages began, but the 23-year-old Honduran returned to Kansas City with a wealth of experience and lessons learned from the once-in-a-lifetime experience. Espinoza started two games for Los Catrachos, playing the full 90 minutes against Chile and the first half against Spain, but Honduras was eliminated after finishing at the bottom of their group.
Espinoza sat down with the press last week to talk about his experiences at and leading up to the world’s most popular sporting event. This is part two of the interview. Click here for part one.
MLSsoccer.com: The end result was disappointing, but what did it mean for the country to get this far? Did you talk to people in Honduras at all about what it was like there?
Espinoza: Honduras is a soccer nation. I have never seen anybody play other sports. I don’t see basketball courts like in the United States when I drive on the bus. I don’t see anything. I just see people playing soccer in the streets. It’s very difficult for us. They expect us to win everything. When we qualified, everyone was excited. Some people said it brought the economy up. People were happy and going to work and everything. Bars and restaurants were selling food, selling beer. We got a new president, and the new president saw that the country loved the sport of soccer, started getting into it and now the economy is getting better. That’s what I’ve heard so far.
MLSsoccer.com: You got a first-hand glimpse of the best players in the world on the biggest stage. What did you identify as areas where you need to get better?
Espinoza: I saw how guys on Spain, Switerland and Chile move, the way that if they make a mistake, they try to help their teammates. They don’t get mad at them. It’s something I want to do here. Every time a teammate makes a mistake, I want to try to help them. I want them to help me if I make a mistake, and try to talk to them and communicate with them. I saw that if a player makes a mistake, the other player thinks it’s his mistake too for not telling the other what to do. So I think that’s something I gained through experience over there on how they work hard. You think these players are making millions and everything, but I was there with them and saw how hard they work and how good they are. I think they deserve that.
MLSsoccer.com: Was that an inspiration for you in a way, to see guys that maybe came from a similar background? Guys from Chile don’t come from a huge nation, but they’ve worked hard and reached their goals.
Espinoza: It’s definitely an inspiration for me. Not just Chile, but guys from my national team. There are guys there who said they want to be in the MLS because they think the MLS is a great league. I tell them it is, and it’s great being here. They think I’m in a great situation, but I want to get to a higher expectation and get to a better league in Europe. I want to be like some of those players on the Honduran national team. Some of them play in England, Italy, top leagues in the world. Like you said with Chile, those guys don’t have a big nation, but they qualified second in South America, which is very, very hard being a small country.
MLSsoccer.com: Outside of all things on the soccer side, is there something that sticks out to you as something off the field that you’ll remember for the rest of your life?
Espinoza: Just being in South Africa and the humbleness of the people there. How we have things here that they don’t have, and they don’t take life for granted. Every day they are happy. Very poor people I saw, and they are happy that the World Cup was there. There was every single little kid with the vuvuzelas. Just the experience that I gained and all the charities I saw over there helping the African countries is something I want to do in the future.
MLSsoccer.com: Was it a little strange to hear all the talk about the Jabulani ball? You guys have been using that all year long. It’s nothing new for you.
Espinoza: You saw the goal that the US scored against England. I don’t know if since they don’t use the balls over there, it was a problem for the goalie. I had the opportunity to play in Johannesburg. The altitude there is a couple miles up or a mile. It was tough. The ball dropped a lot faster. The ball knuckled when it was getting to you. So maybe the altitude affected it. I’m not sure. I am used to playing with the ball here. It does sometimes do some tricky stuff.
MLSsoccer.com: Some warmer-climate teams talked about the weather affecting them. What kind of role did that and the altitude play?
Espinoza: We knew that the altitude was something that we were going to have to deal with, so that’s why we went to Germany and Austria before the World Cup to get ready at altitude. When we got to South Africa, the weather was a little bit colder, too. It was kind of funny. It was cold every day. The Honduran guys were like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe it’s this cold.’ But the day of the game, it was hot. It was like we brought the hot weather from Honduras just for our game. It was something good for us. Nelspruit, where we played, was a hot city, so it wasn’t a problem. The only city that was a little bit colder was Bloemfontein, which is up in the northeast of South Africa. But it didn’t affect us really.
MLSsoccer.com: Was your family or anyone else able to come see you play?
Espinoza: They were not able to go this time. It happened so quick. I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to say I was going to the World Cup, and buy tickets and stuff if I wasn’t sure. It was a last minute thing, so hopefully I am able to go to the next World Cup and they are able to come.
MLSsoccer.com: Is Jonathan Bornstein still held in high esteem in Honduras?
Espinoza: He can come to Honduras anytime he wants. I’m sure they love him over there. He made our country happy. Hopefully, he is able to go there. There are a lot of nice places to go to vacation. We have one of the best islands in the world with reefs and such. I think it’s the second next to Australia. It would be great if he goes.
MLSsoccer.com: Sounds like you have a second profession as a travel agent.
Espinoza: (Laughing) Soccer only lasts for so long.