KANSAS CITY, Mo. – All season long, Roger Espinoza has insisted that his first goal of 2012 would come in a big game.
With the playoffs looming and Sporting Kansas City still trying to finish atop the Eastern Conference and sew up home-field advantage in the playoffs, there are no small games left on the schedule.
“All these games now are very big games,” Espinoza said on Wednesday, during the club's weekly news conference. “We're going for the Supporters Shield and to win the Eastern Conference.”
If Espinoza's looking for a big moment to find the net, then he could do far worse than Sunday's game at Columbus (4 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
If New York and Chicago – both five points back with three games remaining – draw on Saturday, a Sporting win would lock up the East’s top spot. Even if there's a winner between the Fire and Red Bulls, a victory for Sporting would keep them a commanding five points clear with two to go.
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“It's going to come eventually,” said Espinoza, who has two goals in his four-plus seasons in Kansas City. “Hopefully in this one. But if it doesn't happen, I'll be happy with the win.”
And so long as Sporting keep winning, the midfielder said, he'll be content even if he doesn't score at all this year.
“That's how it should be every time,” said Espinoza, who has a career-best eight shots on goal this season but has been denied several times by spectacular saves. “A player can win you so many games, but a team wins championships. I don't care who scores. At the end of the day, I want to win.”
Espinoza has done plenty to help Sporting do just that, providing tenacious defense and ball-winning skills throughout the middle third.
“From last year to this year, I think he's grown tremendously,” manager Peter Vermes said. “I think he's been very solid for us. I would say he's had his best year so far with this club.”
Still, Espinoza would love to celebrate a goal of his own at least once this year. Actually, more than once.
“I expect to score two goals,” he said. “I scored one my rookie year and one last year, so that would be a career high.”
He's set his sights high, too, with the venue for the second goal already picked out.
“Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “The MLS Cup final.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.