• Friday May 11, 2012

    Four years on, Espinoza hopes for Olympics



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    By Michael Lewis

    KANSAS CITY, Kansas —Four years ago, Roger Espinoza was only 21 and eligible to play for the Honduras in the Olympics. But playing his first year as a professional for Sporting Kansas City, he didn't have the experience.

    Now with "Los Catrcachos" qualified again, he already has played in a World Cup, two Gold Cups and four seasons in Major League Soccer. And despite being over the age limit, he still can be chosen as one of the three "wild card" players.

    "If the opportunity comes, why not?" Espinoza said. "The Olympics are just right below a World Cup. Some people see it just like a World Cup. The Olympics are amazing. The best part is that they include all of the sports around the world.

    "Being there, it's unbelievable probably. If I get it included in it, I would love to go. If I don't, I'm so happy for Honduras, I'm sure the person who goes will be well-deserving. I'll be very happy for him."

    Espinoza moved from Honduras to the Denver area when he was 12 years old. He attended Yavapai College in Arizona for two years before transferring to Ohio State University in 2006. He played in the U.S. College Cup finals a year later, for the Arizona Sahuaros in the amateur National Premier Soccer League and was finally drafted by Kansas City in 2008.

    But it wasn't enough to get to the Olympics.

    "I didn't have the experience to go," he said. "It was my first year in MLS. The qualifying was around this time and it was my first game in the league. An Olympian summer, I don't know if I would have been ready for that."

    Whether Espinoza is aware, he's already on Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez's list of over age potentials.

    "It's definitely a possibility," Suarez said after the Hondurans' 2-1 loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF men's Olympic qualifying final on Monday. "He's someone on my list especially after the injury to Alfredo Mejia."

    Mejia broke a bone in his foot in Honduras' semifinal victory over El Salvador and was projected to miss at least two months.

    The 25-year-old Espinoza should feel right at home with the Honduran U-23 team. Prior to Monday's match, he went into the Honduran locker room at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park to congratulate his countrymen on their qualification, Honduras' third in its last four attempts.

    "They did a great job," he said. "They made a whole country happy.

    "I know the guys, very humble players on the team, a very tight group. I definitely wanted them to win. I was just relieved that they qualified and knowing that in Honduras everybody is happy over there."

    No Honduran athlete has ever won a medal — gold, silver or bronze -- at the Summer Games, so merely participating is an accomplishment. Finishing in the top three would mean making history.

    "It is [a big deal]," Espinoza said. "You can see that. Soccer is the only sport in Honduras. There are a few sports, individual sports that are going to the Olympics, but soccer is the main sport. That's the only thing you can rely on, getting a medal. If it happens, it would be something good for our country. Hopefully, we're able to do it. Sooner or later it will come. Nothing lasts forever."

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