Roger Espinoza: "I have given the best to my country for ten years. It’s time to give that opportunity to the next generation"
Roger Espinoza is a legend of the Honduran National Team. Hardened on the field through a long international career, he now embraces his role as a teacher and role model for those who will follow him. He will be sorely missed in this year’s Gold Cup, but his legacy remains alive among compatriots who now defend the 'H' jersey.
The life of Roger Espinoza can be summed up in a phrase: seizing opportunities. He arrived in the U.S. at the age of 11. "Truth be told, it was a difficult decision, but I think my parents made the right one," he says today, almost 20 years after he emigrated. In Honduras, six people lived in a house with only two rooms, including one room that doubled as a living room and a kitchen. After they arrived in Denver, their lives changed for the better. But while his family has stayed there, Roger has traveled far and wide to realize his dream.
“I owe a lot to the United States, but I feel Honduran.”
After arriving in Colorado as a child, he played youth soccer in Arizona and Ohio, before ending up in Kansas City, where he stayed for five years. In those days, when he was just an up and coming prospect, he was tempted to play with the United States senior team. He thought about it a little bit, but ultimately decided against it and ended up playing for Honduras. "I owe a lot to the United States, but I feel Honduran," is how he justifies his decision.
After taking full advantage of the opportunity to live in a country with a better quality of life and to make a career out of being a football player, another opportunity came and Espinoza did not waste it: the opportunity to play abroad. He spent two seasons playing for Wigan Athletic, where he went through both ups and downs. He won the FA Cup, the oldest tournament in the world, but was also part of a team that was relegated from the Premier League.
“The best goal of his career was against Neymar’s Brazil, from outside the area.”
Thinking of his most beautiful experiences in Europe, Espinoza recalls the times he’s played at Wembley Stadium, home of the English national team. "How many players have the opportunity to see the cathedral of football? And I played there four times." While this was happening, Roger also gave everything in the Honduran selection. He played in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where he scored, in his mind, the best goal of his career: "It was against Neymar’s Brazil, from outside the area." That day his team lost in the quarterfinals 3-2 against the team that, in the end, would fall in the final against Mexico.
“How many players have the opportunity to see the cathedral of football? And I played there four times.”
Now at 30, Roger lives his best life, again with Kansas City FC, the team he returned to in 2015 and still plays for. Mature, experienced, and still in full physical shape, Espinoza is the core of the team. "My outstanding debt in football is to win a title here." In a city where he is an idol, Roger has made a name not only for what he does on the field, but also what he does off of it. He teaches soccer workshops to area schools with some frequency, but also has become guide for the younger players of Kansas City FC. For instance, he mentors the young Colombian, Jimmy Medranda, a 23-year-old left-footed attacker whom Roger has adopted as a son, to the point that after training they go out for coffee, go out to eat or make any kind of plans together. He is also generous in his time with his compatriots, always watching the Honduran National Team. "I have given the best to my country for ten years. It is time to give that opportunity to the next generation. Looking ahead to the Gold Cup, I see that this is a team that can go from less to more."
Concerning the new generation of Honduran football, we must look at the Houston Dynamo, where there are four Hondurans who are on the roster. Among the team’s standout players is Romell Quioto, one of the fixtures of Jorge Luis Pinto's team. Unlike Roger, Romell is more offensive-minded. He doesn’t have Espinoza’s level of experience because he hasn’t played in as many international tournaments, especially since he missed the 2012 Olympics in London. However, he was part of the Honduran team that placed fourth in Rio 2016. Quioto has plenty of talent and has the experience of playing abroad. Before the MLS, Quioto was in the Polish league, playing for Wisla Krakow, one of the country’s most storied clubs, but it was with Vida and Olympia in Honduras where he consolidated his talent and opened the doors to continue playing abroad.
A lot has happened since he left his native Balfate, a town of 13,000 in the state of Colón, to go to Houston, a burgeoning city of more than 6 million people. From his experiences in Poland he remembers the harsh weather and the language barrier: "We worked a lot in training, which helped discipline me in terms of learning tactics, but I had a hard time adjusting to the weather and the lack of minutes." As for the national team, he acknowledges that it has not been easy either, but he wants this above everything else: "I know that sometimes I'm criticized that I don’t show the same ability for the H and I do for my club, but you can be sure that I always try to give my best."
Today, there is a new Dynamo team, and Romell understands the beauty of playing with his Honduran teammates Jose Escalante, Boniek Garcia and Alberth Elis, especially with the latter, as both are young attackers, and everything that happens on the pitch and in their lives coincides. It’s different in Espinoza’s case, who Quioto sees more as a role model: "He’s a great player, but above all he’s a great person. He looks at us to continue his legacy, and he gives us advice whenever he can."
Quioto is known for his play and blond dreadlocks, but also for the tattoos that cover his arms and legs. If you look closely, you can find, among many, a ball with a crown, 31, his number, the names of his daughters, Ava and Jireth, and even Olympic logo, which he got after the 2016 Rio Olympics.
But beyond those details, Quioto is part of the new generation that Roger Espinoza speaks of. And although Romell and his teammates have already achieved a lot, they still have much more to do. Defending the Honduran colors and going to the World Cup for the third consecutive time is motivation enough, but they’re concerned with the Gold Cup for now, a tournament that his country has not won in its current format. Moved by the love of the earth and united by that great 'H' worn on the chest of their uniform, accomplishing their task does not seem so far-fetched.