A top performer for his country in the Brazil World Cup, he scores outstanding goals, makes assists and was part of a famous FA Cup winning lineup. He works like a Trojan on the field, is dedicated to the cause and has infectious enthusiasm. Those attributes make him a favourite with the fans at his club.
But the 27 year old Roger Espinoza has clearly never been a favourite with his managers since arriving at Wigan in December 2012 from Sporting Kansas City, where a fan described his play as a mixture of cruching tackling and combative running. With one more year of his contract remaining will he be auctioned off to another club, or will Uwe Rosler finally give him the extent that he has never been given before?
The love story between Wigan Athletic and Honduras seems to be coming to an end. Espinoza was the fourth Honduran to join Latics, following on from Maynor Figueroa, Wilson Palacios and Hendry Thomas. A fifth – the ‘forgotten man’ Juan Carlos Garcia – arrived last summer, but was shunned by both Owen Coyle and Uwe Rosler throughout the season. Garcia came on as a 62nd minute substitute in the recent friendly at Rochdale. But he was not included in the squad that went to Germany last week and joined Grant Holt in the under 21 team that played at Blackburn on Saturday. With the signings of two new left backs it appears that Garcia’s days at Wigan are numbered.
Although he was born in Honduras, Espinoza is an American citizen. He moved to Denver at the age of 12. He made his name playing for the Ohio State University team that reached the final of the College Cup, scoring an early goal but his team went on to lose 2-1 to Wake Forest. From university he joined Sporting Kansas City in 2008, gaining his US citizenship that same year. Espinoza was given the opportunity to opt for the US national team, but chose to play for the country of his birth.
Being bilingual Espinoza has been a valuable asset within the squad, providing the link between the Spanish and English speakers. When he first joined Latics he had had practically no break from football as the MLS season had not long finished. Moreover he had a hectic summer representing the Honduran team in the London Olympics, where he got himself instant fame with a goal in the match against Brazil.
Espinoza was to make 16 appearances for Latics in the second part of that 2012-13 season, a significant number for a player with no previous experience in the Premier League. He made a significant contribution to the FA Cup triumph, playing in the wins against Macclesfield and Huddersfield. In the absence of Figueroa through injury Espinoza was pressed into service as a wing back in the FA Cup Final and performed well.
Given his relatively quick adaptation to English football it looked like Espinoza was going to be a regular name on Wigan’s team sheet. However, the arrival of Owen Coyle was to change that. Espinoza’s appearances were to be few and short, more often than not coming off the bench. On occasions when he made the starting lineup he was invariably substituted early in the second half.
An abiding memory for me is the visit to Charlton in late October. In the 70th minute, Coyle had both Espinoza and Marc-Antoine Fortune warming up on the sidelines. Coyle was soon to point the finger to beckon at least one of them on. Espinoza’s body language said “Who me?” probably assuming it was the big forward who was to go on. The Honduran did go on, with Fortune following four minutes later.
The arrival of Uwe Rosler in December did not seem to help Espinoza’s claim for a regular spot. Despite not being a regular he put in a trio of ‘Man of the Match’ performances in January but was to go for hernia surgery in mid-March, surprisingly returning to play a little over a month later. Had it been the hernia problem that had limited his outings under both Coyle and Rosler?
Espinoza’s critics will say that he plays like a headless chicken, reckless in his tackling and lacking in skill. His fans will utterly refute that. They will admit that he plays at a frenetic pace, but in addition to being a ball-winner he puts in incisive passes and crosses and scores goals. Sometimes his eagerness to win the ball back can leave holes for the opposition to exploit. If he were more disciplined he would be a better option in many ways, but then again taking that impetuosity away from him would nullify his style of play. The question is whether Espinoza can learn to discipline himself sufficiently to fit into the system that Rosler uses.
Espinoza can play in any position across midfield and at wing back. For Honduras he has been playing in left midfield. His best position is probably as a box-to-box player in the left centre of midfield.
At 27, Espinoza is nearing his peak. Providing he stays at the club and stays fit he can have an important role to play in Latics’ promotion push. His best is yet to come.