HOUSTON – Roger Espinoza is a more refined player after two seasons in England. The Wigan Athletic man has not only become a fulcrum for his club, but now for the Honduran national team, and is now a go-to player for Los Catrachos as they prepare for the World Cup in Brazil.
In a rough 4-2 loss to Israelat BBVA Compass Stadium he showed off some of those newfound abilities with a goal and an assist to add to a strong overall performance on his part.
And though his game has certainly developed with his days in the UK, when looking at what it will take to do well in Brazil, Espinoza plans to pull on his MLS roots and feels his teammates should do the same.
“It’s a great place to learn the physicality of the game, the techniques of the game and the tactics of the game,” Espinoza said about his time in MLS, where he spent the first five years of his career in Kansas City. “Here’s where many of us are getting that. [Playing in MLS helped] a lot and not just to me but to many Honduran guys. We’ve still got a lot to learn, we are learning and hopefully we can get all the Honduran guys here at one point.”
Espinoza was known in particular for his physicality and guile during his time with Sporting. A player never to shy away from a tackle, he gained a reputation around the league for being a hard-nosed tackler.
He has since added to that part of his game. His time with the Latics has refined his tactical awareness and skill on the ball – parts of Espinoza's game that got overlooked while Stateside, but show when donning the Blue and White of Honduras.
“I think that he’s a player of a very high category,” said former Houston Dynamo striker Carlo Costly through a translator. “He’s showed why he’s in our national team and why he’s playing internationally.”
Those attributes will only go so far in Brazil, but Espinoza as well as his fellow national teamers that have played in MLS know that they will certainly be putting them to use when the curtain rises in two weeks' time.
“We know here they play with a lot of physicality and the ball is always in the air,” Costly continued. “We have more experience and know how to play these types of games and God willing we can do well in Brazil.”
At the center of it all is Espinoza. The hardworking midfielder was a bright spot for the Hondurans, who suffered a second defeat in a row in their preparations for Brazil. He found space and helped Honduras’ attack go, scoring a rocket from outside the area which he called "lucky" and assisting on Costly’s late score.
As his game has developed, so has his importance to the Honduran team and their chances to make waves in Brazil. And as they move forward and try and gain momentum before they open play against France on June 15, he'll remember a key lesson from the many years he spent growing as a player in the US.
“If there’s one thing about Americans it’s that no matter what happens to them, at the end of the day with exactly what happened to us,” he explained, “they have the mentality to get up and overcome things.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.