Ohio State products Konrad Warzycha and Matt Lampson were in the starting lineup at midfield and goalkeeper, respectively, for the Crew of Major League Soccer on Saturday night at Crew Stadium. Roger Espinoza, a talisman for the 2007 OSU team that reached the NCAA College Cup final, joined his fellow Buckeyes on the field for the start of the second half for Wigan.
The players' on-field reunion was short-lived, but it didn't take long for the former Buckeyes to turn up the pace of the game. Their performance also underscored the broader narrative and increasing regularity of success beyond Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium for products of head coach John Bluem's OSU program.
After both teams slogged through a first half that saw few chances for either team, Espinoza's impact was immediate. His first touch of the match came in the 46th minute on a cross that Wigan's James McCarthy deposited into the back of Lampson's net. Wigan manager Owen Coyle called Espinoza's cross "exquisite."
"I was actually going to take (Espinoza) off because I thought, ‘It doesn't get any better than that,' " Coyle joked. "I decided just to leave him on and let him get his 45 minutes."
Espinoza has enjoyed success in Ohio's capital city as both a collegian and a professional. His Saturday assist came in the same south end of Crew Stadium where, as a member of MLS' Kansas City franchise in July 2008, he scored the first goal of his professional career.
"(Columbus) is where it all started for me, so every time I get to come here is always an excitement," Espinoza said following the match.
Since leaving OSU for the professional ranks following the 2007 college season, Espinoza has also participated in the 2010 World Cup and 2012 London Olympics with the Honduran national team. After his jump from MLS to Wigan, Espinoza became the first ex-Buckeye – or ex-Big Ten player, to show just what an accomplishment it is – to score a goal in the Premier League during a 3-2 Wigan loss to Swansea City on May 7. Four days later, he hoisted the FA Cup trophy after putting in a full 90 minutes in Wigan's shock upset of Premier League titan Manchester City.
The assemblage of OSU talent in a Saturday's match truly took center stage as Espinoza and Warzycha, teammates on the national runner-up OSU squad in 2007, fought each other for possession. During one sequence, Espinoza stripped Warzycha of the ball near midfield and sped back toward Lampson's goal. Warzycha was left kneeling on the ground in Espinoza's wake, pounding the ground in frustration with two fists.
Generally, the on-field dialogue between the former OSU teammates was friendly, Warzycha said.
"It was nice, we joked around a little bit. I called him out because he didn't call me when (Wigan) got in," Warzycha said. "He said he lost my number and I said, ‘Sure, sure.' "
Warzycha, a Dublin, Ohio, native, was a three-year starter for the Buckeyes and scored 13 goals in his four seasons with the Scarlet and Gray from 2007-10.
At about the one-hour mark of the contest, the Crew pulled Warzycha and Lampson from the game as part of a rare 10-man substitution, and so ended the OSU players' reunion. Espinoza stayed on to finish the match, which Wigan won, 2-1, but the Buckeyes had already made an indelible mark on the game.
The final score was of little consequence, though. Wigan was more focused on improving its fitness as it prepares for its upcoming season in the second-tier English Championship after being relegated from the Premier League, while the Crew – which is in the middle of its season – simply wanted to avoid injuries.
The game held deeper appreciation for the associates and friends of OSU men's soccer. Soccer success is becoming more common for players that have come through Bluem's program, which has produced 14 MLS SuperDraft and Supplemental Draft selections since 2003.
Don't forget Lampson, who opted to forgo the MLS draft process but is another top OSU product. Lampson was eligible to sign a "homegrown" contract with the Crew because he trained in the team's youth development academy for more than one year.
A three-year starter for the Scarlet and Gray from 2009-11 and co-owner of the school record for shutouts (24), Lampson pointed out after Saturday's match that OSU was the only college program to boast three former players in the game. Certainly, Buckeye Nation had the only former NCAA player on Wigan's roster in Espinoza. Those two facts made an otherwise casual friendly match greatly significant for the three former Buckeyes, Lampson said.
Espinoza agreed, saying the encounter with fellow Buckeyes on the professional level was evidence of OSU soccer's continuing strength.
"It tells you a lot about the program," he said. "It tells you a lot about Ohio State, that the development is going pretty well at the school."