Roger Espinoza’s dream is within his grasp. Now the countdown begins.
If the 23-year-old Honduran international continues starting and impressing for Wizards manager Peter Vermes in a newfound role at left back, he has a good chance to be on a plane to South Africa this summer with los Catrachos.
The alternative is not even worth thinking about at this point for Espinoza. All that stands between him and a trip to the World Cup is hard work and a couple breaks along the way.
“As a kid -- in Kansas City, in college, in club -- everybody dreams of being in a World Cup,” Espinoza said. “Now that I have the opportunity to maybe go to the World Cup, I’m working hard.”
Before the season started, it looked like that work might have to be put in someplace other than Kansas City. Espinoza started 12 games and played in 22 his rookie year in 2008, but only made six starts last season, though he also missed time playing with the national team at last summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
He only ended up made six starts in 2009, and Honduras’ national-team coach, Reinaldo Rueda, was quoted as saying the young player would need to find regular playing time if he wanted to have a shot at making the trip to South Africa. In the end, Vermes squashed any rumors of a potential loan move before they could gain any momentum.
“There was talks about going somewhere,” Espinoza said, “but Peter wanted to work with me because he had already planned that I was going to play left back.”
So far Vermes is happy with Espinoza’s progress through three games, all starts, although both acknowledge that he has plenty of room for improvement. It also helps that early-season standout Ryan Smith has occupied plenty of attention at left midfield, simplifying Espinoza’s role.
“Roger tends to stay a little more and allow Smith to do his offensive stuff,” Vermes said.
As far as Espinoza is concerned, Smith’s tendency to go forward has only made his transition to left back even more seamless. After playing at left midfield his first two years in the league, Espinoza knows where Smith is likely to be, how to play him the ball and how to move off of him even if he can only go forward in spurts.
“It makes my job easier,” Espinoza said. “He allows me to go up and overlap him at times because he is really keeping the right back and right mid back there. It gives me time to go up the field and help him up there.”
With Smith streaking up the sideline and Espinoza supporting him, that partnership has been one of the Wizards strongest. In the process, Espinoza has stated his case to Rueda, and Kansas City has also started the season strong, something that is equally important to the ultracompetitive Honduran.
But as much as Espinoza would like to be with his teammates in Kansas City all summer marching towards the playoffs, something bigger is calling to him from South Africa. Now all that’s left to do is build on his case for being one of 23 players in the Honduras squad that makes the trip.
“Being in that spot right now is special,” Espinoza said. “I know it could happen, and hopefully it happens.”