“Midfielder Roger Espinoza began his professional career in Kansas City (2008-2012) before moving abroad to join Wigan Athletic (2013-14) in England. He returned to Sporting KC in January 2015, becoming one of only three players currently under contract with MLS
to have appeared in an Olympic Games and two or more FIFA World Cups. He started 20 matches for Sporting KC during an injury-shortened 2015 season, recording a goal and five assists.” – SportingKC.com
Back when I started watching Sporting KC in 2010-11, Roger Espinoza might have honestly been the sole reason I continued to watch the team. Espo was simply the most captivating player for me. However, he stood out for completely different reasons than hr does today.
Back then, when I knew nothing about soccer, Espinoza was an absolute menace on the field and was never afraid of physical contact. For me, growing up in the Midwest (Ameican Football Haven) his audacious, fearless, powerful, and occasionally reckless tackles made the sport and SKC interesting. He went all out, all the time; even if it was to his or the teams detriment (Real Salt Lake preseason fight). Overall, Espinoza made the sport exciting for someone who had never really watched soccer outside the World Cup a few times.
Now, however, things have changed for Roger Espinoza and Sporting KC. We no longer are blessed with the crazed, “chicken running with his head cut off” version of Espinoza. Now that he has gotten a little older and gained some very valuable experience in England, he is hitting the prime of his career. You can see it on the field. While he certainly has not lost his ability to command the midfield, Espinoza has gained a calm, cool and collected vision in the attack.
A perfect example of this is last week’s second goal against Vancouver, along with an attempt on goal that was absolutely beautiful to watch and was sparked by Espinoza.
On the second SKC goal, everyone notices Graham Zusi, Chance Meyers, and Dom Dwyer. What many people might not notice/remember is the where the ball came from to get to Graham Zusi – it was Espinoza. Further up the field and prior to all you see in the highlight reel below (1:16min), Espo wins the headed ball in midfield by holding off an oncoming tackle, drops his right shoulder and runs straight at the defense eventually laying the ball off to Zusi. Zusi then goes on to make the chip over top the defense to Meyers, who slips it behind for Dom’s cool finish. All of this play was started by Espo.
Prior to that, and on a play that unfortunately did not score, Espo did the EXACT same thing and it was magical: He won a ball in the defenses’ third, dropped his shoulder, turned to run straight at the defense, held off a defender, simultaneously picked his head up to see the advanced run by Dom Dwyer, then made the perfectly weighted pass to the edge of the box for a one-time cross behind the defense from Zusi. The play was superb. If only the ball had gone into the back of the net. (For the highlight watch the condensed game if you have MLS Live)(Screen shot GIF below)
It is not this type of offensive prowess that Espinoza is exactly known for around the league. He is more well known for his running, tackling, recovery, and overall physicality. However, after gaining experience in the EPL and growing a little older and wiser, this type of offensive attacking play is exactly why he has gone from an acceptable midfielder to an elite midfielder in Major League Soccer.
Take a listen to Talkin’ Touches podcast. Andy Edwards and Charles Gooch over there are always on top of their game. In their latest podcast they also mention their love for Roger Espinoza and what he does for Sporting KC.
Watching Espinoza evolve over the past 6 years has been invigorating. The entertainment value is different for me these days, but he still makes the beautiful game in KC fun to watch. Keep an eye on him in the game this Sunday against Toronto.