Roger Espinoza has gone from one-year Ohio State wonder to a solid veteran in Major League Soccer and an experienced member of the Honduras national team. He competed in the World Cup in 2010 at the age of 23, showing he should be a stalwart on international duty for years to come. He has three goals in 25 games on the full national team. A member of first-place Sporting Kansas City of MLS, Espinoza has become known for his ability to play both midfield and defense and control a game thanks to his energy and high-pressure play. Said SKC manager Peter Vermes, "Roger has a great energy level within the team. He's a great ball winner and he gets stronger as the game goes on." Espinoza has earned mention as a possible MLS All-Star by some this season.
Hometown: Puerto Cortes, Honduras
Event: Men's soccer tournament; Group D play vs. Morocco, July 26; Group D play vs. Spain, July 29; Group D play vs. Japan, Aug. 1; Medal round play begins Aug. 4
How Qualified: Espinoza was chosen by manager Luis Fernando Suarez as one of three overage players for the Honduras team. The Olympic tournament limits participation to players under the age of 23, but teams can have three players over that limit. Espinoza was chosen along with English Premier League defender Maynor Figueroa (Wigan Athletic) and MLS forward Jerry Bengtson (New England).
Medal Chances: Honduras has been drawn in a tough group in the 16-team tournament with Spain, Morocco and Japan. Spain obviously will be tough, as La Furia Roja are the reigning world and European champions on the senior level and could feature such international stars as David de Gea, Jordi Alba, Juan Mata and Cristian Tello. Japan and Morocco are unknowns and don't have much pedigree on this level. Honduras is a darkhorse pick to make the final 16, but La Bicolor Olimpica lost all three games it played in 2008.
Ohio State Career: Espinoza played only one season for Ohio State, but it was a memorable one as he helped the Buckeyes get to the national championship game for the first time in program history in 2007. Espinoza scored three goals and three assists while earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. One of his goals was in the national championship game vs. Wake Forest, and Espinoza's attacking verve and energetic play earned him first-round draft status after that season when he signed a Generation adidas contract.
In His Own Words: "Ohio State helped me a lot, just to get a scholarship to go there and study there. I wasn't planning on going pro when I got there, but we did so well as a team it put me on the stage and I think it helped me a lot. Everybody on the soccer team worked hard. It was unbelievable how they treated the athletes and helped them get to the next level or wherever they may be going.
"I'm very excited to be going to the Olympics. Obviously, I didn't know if I would be called up. It's Under-23s, and there are a lot of very good older players in Honduras that could have had the opportunity. Having a coach that wanted to take me is very special to me and I'm very excited to be going. I'm very honored to be part of that.
"I worked hard for this season, but I work hard for every season. But I think this is definitely one of my best seasons just because of the experience I've gotten. I feel like the experience when I go over there is going to be a lot better, and hopefully it continues after the Olympics and I'm able to come back to Kansas City and help out a lot. I hope it keeps getting better and better.
"I hope being in midseason form helps. I don't know. A lot of the teams are in friendlies right now. Some of the guys on the Spain team just played in the Euros. The Japanese league, they're playing in Japan. A lot of the guys have been playing, but hopefully it gives me an advantage. Hopefully I'm in better shape. That would be good.
"Obviously, I was very young in the World Cup, and I saw a lot of the older guys when I was there as a younger guy, how much they helped me. The coach gave me a process to learn from the older guys, and it ended up working out pretty well. A lot of the older guys, they never really got mad at me or even yelled at me when I made a bad pass. They always supported me. That's the same approach I'm going to take with the younger guys. You're going to make mistakes sometimes in games. That happens, but you have to help your teammates. Hopefully I can bring my experience that I've learned from the World Cup veterans that were with me when I was there. Hopefully I can do that in the Olympics with the younger guys.
"The World Cup, to me, is the biggest stage for any soccer player. You have every soccer fan watching it, millions of people. Just being a part of that experience, seeing the type of players you play against, how good they are, you see yourself and you see how hard you have to work to become closer to some of the players that you play against in the World Cup. It gives you that experience of playing in front of thousands and thousands of people, so you don't get as nervous anymore as you were in the World Cup.
"The Olympics are a huge deal in Honduras. I'm pretty sure they are all over the world. When the Under-23s play, everybody in Honduras is stuck to their televisions watching those games. It's something we take very serious. Obviously soccer is the top sport in Honduras. Qualifying to that is like being in a World Cup for the younger guys. For a lot of people in Honduras, it's better than the World Cup just because there's other sports. It's a huge thing, and I'm very proud and honored to be representing Honduras.
"This Under-23 Honduras team is very talented. A lot of people have been talking in Honduras that expectations are very high. They at least want Honduras to go into the next round just because of the way the younger guys are playing. A lot of them are on the national team and have gotten experience in playing in qualifiers already. Obviously it's a very talented group and people expect a lot from us in the Olympics. I'm taking it very seriously. I want to make it very far. I've seen these U-23 players play here in Kansas City when they were qualifying for the Olympics. They look very good to me. I know with the team, we can get very far.
"People in Honduras would go crazy if we get out of the group stage. You could see when we qualified for the World Cup how crazy the country went and how excited and how happy everybody was. Just to get a medal in the Olympics would be something amazing and something that would go down in history. Hopefully we're able to reach that stage.
"I'm going to keep tabs on Sporting Kansas City. When I was in the World Cup, I did the same thing – I was watching how Sporting was doing, so obviously I'll be rooting for them over there. I know I won't be able to watch the games, but I know the guys are going to do well here. We have something special going on here so I know the guys will be ready."