Latinos ready for Brighton

Both Jean Beausejour and Roger Espinoza have had a busy week, but neither would complain if Owen Coyle put them in the lineup against Brighton on Saturday.

What are the chances?

Beausejour played for the first 81 minutes for Chile at Wembley on Friday, then came on as a substitute after only 8 minutes against Brazil in Toronto on Tuesday, completing the remainder of the match.

Beausejour was a key component of Chile’s fine 2-0 win over England. His expert close control in tight situations, together with his patient approach, helped Chile build dangerous moves down the right hand side of England’s defence.

He came early in Toronto because of an injury to midfield dynamo Marcelo Diaz. Brazil went 1-0 up after 10 minutes but Chile got one back when Eduardo Vargas scored a spectacular goal from his headed pass after 71 minutes

Chile had been far from overwhelmed against Brazil, but eventually went down 2-1 to an 80th minute goal from Robinho.

Chile are certainly seeking the right kind of opposition in preparation for the trip to Brazil in June.

Espinoza played for the first 64 minutes against Brazil in Miami, in front of a crowd of 71,000. When he went off Honduras were losing 2-0. They let in another three without him. Check out  this video clip to see how impressive Espinoza looked in that match. Bleacher Report rated him Honduras’ best performer.

Espinoza came on after 46 minutes in the 2-2 draw with Ecuador in Houston on Tuesday. Honduras were trailing 1-0 at half time, but got to 2-1 ahead until Ecuador equalized in the 89th minute. Both teams had been down to 10 men, Wilson Palacios having been sent off after 84 minutes.

Honduras used a total of 12 substitutes in those two matches, in an attempt to give a wide range of players an opportunity to show what they could do against quality opposition. That Espinoza played 109 minutes in the two games is therefore not a reflection upon his performance.

Brazil are going to be the team to beat in June and Honduras needed to play strong opposition outside their usual opponents in CONCACAF. Ecuador are no push-overs either, having finished fourth in the highly competitive South American qualifying competition.

Despite playing well against world class opposition for their countries neither Beausejour nor Espinoza is likely to make the starting lineup against Brighton.

Beausejour missed recent Latics matches through a foot injury, but currently has to compete with James McClean and Callum McManaman for a place on the left flank.

Despite a Man of the Match performance in Kazan, Espinoza was not retained in the starting lineup at Yeovil. In fact he was brought off the bench with five minutes to go. Coyle is blessed with a strong squad of holding midfield players and has rotated them well, with the exception of Espinoza who he has repeatedly snubbed.

In the Brazil match Espinoza played wide in left midfield, not his best position, but he nevertheless looked very involved, winning the ball and putting in some excellent passes.

Coyle has lined up with both Jordi Gomez and James McArthur in wide midfield positions, with little success. He brought Espinoza off the bench in the Charlton match to play wide on the left and the Honduran did not do badly.

Juan Carlos Garcia was also in the Honduras squad for both matches and came on as a substitute after 81 minutes against Brazil. Coyle still has not started him at left back, although he did play in left midfield in the League Cup loss to Manchester City. It would be a big surprise if he started on Saturday.

There is good news for Latics in that the excellent Ivan Ramis is ready to compete for a place, after 10 months out through injury. It will interesting to see if Coyle is willing to put Ramis in the rotation with Leon Barnett, Thomas Rogne and Ryan Shotton for the centre back positions.

At the time of his injury at Fulham in January, Ramis was looking a quality Premier League defender –  a good reader of the game with a strong tackle. Ramis will have to adjust to the high ball game played by so many teams in the Championship, but at 6’2” he is quite capable in the air.

Passing the ball out of defence is something Ramis is good at and the other centre backs in the squad should take note. Too often they have taken the easy option of the long ball or the pass back to the goalkeeper, the end result more often than not being Latics losing possession.

It looks like Will Keane will be shortly be signed on loan.  Although Keane’s signing would look like  a positive move we will have to wait and see if Dave Whelan is going to allow Coyle to make a big money purchase of an experienced striker with a proven record of success.

With a busy month coming up it is going to be interesting to see how Coyle rotates his squad.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Meet Roger Espinoza — the inside scoop on Latics’ Honduran target

2012-roger

As today’s news reports have all but confirmed the signing of Honduran Roger Espinoza, we thought we’d seize the opportunity to introduce him through a Kansas-tinted lens. Though familiar on this side of the pond for his star turn in the summer olympics, the midfielder is a far cry from Wigan’s typical Latin American recruits.

Born in Puerto Cortes, Honduras, Espinoza moved the United States at the age of 12, where he has resided since — becoming a citizen in the process. He played collegiate (university-level) football for Yavapai College before transferring to the much bigger Ohio State Buckeyes, where he was identified as a talent and selected in the “draft” by the Kansas City Wizards.

He has since made more than 100 appearances over a four-season span for the club — now known as Sporting Kansas City — and amassed 25 for his native Honduras since his first call-up in 2009, not including the four for the olympic squad this past summer.

Not only will Espinoza become the fourth Honduran to don Wigan Athletic colours — strengthening the ever growing bond between our club and the central american country — he also arrives with fluent English, a huge advantage over his countrymen. As one Wigan supporter humorously, if somewhat inaccurately pointed out, he will be the first “American-sounding” player at the club since Jason de Vos.

When I reached out to the independent supporters club, the KC Cauldron, their response was warm and swift. Latics supporters know a thing or two about losing quality players for little or no money, and the feeling in Kansas is not unlike what we have experienced so many times in the past — sadness and resignation, mixed with pride and genuine wishes for the player to succeed on the big stage.

Without further ado, the words of James Starritt, who writes and speaks about Sporting Kansas City on the web and local radio, on sportingtimes.net and kicktheball.us — and has been thoroughly impressed by Roger in his four years at the club.

A frenzy of crunching tackling and combative running

Roger is a fantastic player who has shown enormous capacity to grow over the last few years. As is typical for MLS he was played out of position for a while — on the flanks early — before being converted to full-back. He didn’t do well, and was a fairly average presence until Honduras popped him into central midfield, and he immediately carved out some fantastic performances. An injury crisis in the middle in 2011 forced a similar move shortly afterwards from Sporting Kansas City, and in his first game he simply dominated the entire midfield, scoring a goal, and breaking up opposition possession in what I can only describe as a frenzy of crunching tackling and combative running. He has never looked back.

If you watched Paul Ince, David Batty or Roy Keane back the days, he is cut from that mold. He is passionate and dominant when he is on his game, and he leaves everything he has on the field. He thrives on the competition, and seems to get stronger as games go onwards. He is very, very consistent. If he can play … he is on.

He is very dangerous around either area, breaking up possession in front of his defense and winning it back around the top of the opponents box. He is ideal sitting right between a defensive midfielder and an attacking/creative one — at least at this level. He can drop back into defensive midfield comfortably, however. He is not terribly dynamic going forward but he does create chances for other players to play around him simply by winning the ball and pressuring people into mistakes, he won’t make goals, you’ll still need players to capitalize on the possession he wins for that. If he can raise his game to BPL levels, Wigan should see more of the ball just having him out there. He is a decent passer, he won’t score many goals, but I think he will only improve with better players around him.

The transfer will go through, goodbyes have been said – I see no reason that he will not pass the medical. He may be a little beaten up after a long season but nothing stands out as problematic long-term that should prevent this going through. Pay will not be an issue either as he is on less than £80,000 currently … annually. The only question is whether he can handle the step up in level … what you get with Roger is a guy who will die trying. He is 26 now but players start later in MLS (they go to college/university and then play…) he is still learning and growing and doesn’t have 8 years of time on his legs. He’ll earn his share of yellows and reds… it is just the nature of his play, he isn’t malicious or dirty but if he dives in, he is going all in. You’ll get no histrionics, no diving – he goes down and bounces right up and gets right back into the game, not much complaining, no drama off the field, and he is a nice guy to talk to – he won’t have problems fitting in with the squad unless he struggles to feel at home within Wigan itself.

If he can handle the BPL I think he has the capacity to be a bit of a fan favorite, maybe not a huge star but a good solid pro who you’ll miss when he isn’t out there. We certainly will.”

Wigan Athletic & Honduras: A love story

It was a chilly evening in Bloemfontein. The 2010 World Cup was in full swing, and while the rest of the world adjusted their TV sets for the decisive Group H match — Spain vs. Chile — my party set off for Free State Stadium amid a sea of blue and white stripes.

My wife Kat and I, fresh from a 12 hour drive from Port Elizabeth where we’d taken in England’s 1-0 win over Slovenia a couple days prior — wore Wigan Athletic shirts. My brother-in-law John, also dressed in Wigan from head to toe, had followed Honduras’ progress through the qualifiers and ensured we had tickets for the group match against Switzerland. Everyone else wore Honduras colours, but by the time we arrived at the stadium, the distinction was blurred.

On paper, the match was a drab 0-0 that dumped Switzerland out of the tournament (Honduras had already been knocked out after defeats against Spain and Chile). But for Hondurans, this was an historic night. Second World Cup, their first since 1982. And it might have been a first win but for some good goalkeeping from the Swiss. The draw was seen as a dignified way to bow out of an extremely tricky group, in their second World Cup appearance. Switzerland had defeated Champions-to-be Spain only a week prior — they were no slouches.

On the pitch, former Latics favourite Wilson Palacios bossed the midfield alongside Hendry Thomas, still a Wigan player at the time. They never got to play together at the JJB or DW, a shame based on the tenacity displayed that evening. Maynor Figueroa, heroic in previous matches despite the defeats, continued his fine form in defense. Current Latics target Roger Espinoza was on the bench. As Figueroa walked toward the tunnel at the end of the match, I shouted in Spanish, “Maynor, por favor quedate en el Wigan!” [Maynor, please stay at Wigan] As the words registered, he retreated back out of the tunnel, stuck his back out head out, and gestured a thumbs up my way. True to his word, he remains a fixture at Wigan Athletic to this day.

I’ve since learned that we were not the only Latics supporters following Honduras at that World Cup. For years now, a curious bond has formed between the Central American nation and the northern town of Wigan.

Having spent a large part of my childhood in Colombia, I know what it means for a Latin American country to see their footballer exports succeed abroad. My dad would pull me out of bed on Sunday mornings to watch Faustino Asprilla play for Parma, and later Newcastle. This was long before the days of Ivan Cordoba’s success at Inter Milan, or the present day golden generation of Colombians succeeding in Europe led by Radamel Falcao. There were two or three players plying their trade abroad, and their every movement was watched with pride.

In many ways, Wigan Athletic has become dear to Hondurans as Parma did to Colombians back in those days. If Roger Espinoza completes his rumoured move from the MLS upon the expiration of his contract, he will become the fourth Honduran to play for the Latics. It is no coincidence that Honduras qualified to their first World Cup in 2010, as their players found first team football in top level leagues. Wigan continue to give their players a stage, an opportunity to grow — and they are reaping the benefits. Needing a win to progress in CONCACAF qualifying yesterday, they annihilated Canada 8-1 and in turn leapfrogged them and Panama to win their qualifying group in the final fixture. Their excellent showing at the Olympics proved there is more talent coming through, Espinoza included. A second consecutive World Cup is a possibility.

And so, there is a real bond between Honduras and Wigan Athletic. Jet-lag aside, Honduras’ success in the qualifiers can only be good for the Latics. Maynor Figueroa has grown immensely over the years. Honduras was the first to use him as a left centre-half, and it wouldn’t be surprising if watching Honduras had persuaded Roberto Martinez to use him in the same way in Wigan. The experience these players gain in major tournaments ultimately strengthens their performances for the club. If Rodallega had been able to break into the Colombian team, he too, might have further developed. As it was, he fell down the pecking order and stagnated for both club and country.

So keep an eye out for our Honduran brethren in the final six-team CONCACAF group stage. With Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Panama, and Jamaica for company — three automatic berths, and a playoff against Oceania — you may have another reason to travel to Brazil in 2014.

iSaludos a nuestros lectores en Honduras! Siguenos en Twitter y Facebook.

¿Que fue de Hendry Thomas?

ENGLISH VERSION

Despues del partido contra Wolves, me senti completamente deprimido, una sensacion demasiado comun para el hincha del Wigan Athletic en lo que va de sus años Premier. “¿Por qué no apoyas a otro equipo? Estas insoportable, y siempre es asi cuando pierden los Latics. Es lo peor que te he visto!”, me dijo mi mujer, y estaba en lo cierto. Tal como Wigan, me hacia falta inspiración este ultimo fin de semana. Estaba hecho un miserable.

Un par de días despues estaba caminando por mi vecindario cuando vi un hombre alto y de piel oscura, vestido con camisa de rayas azul y blancas con el nombre “Thomas” en su espalda. ¿Otro aficionado de los Latics en esta parte lejana del mundo? (el autor vive en Indonesia). ¿Un seguidor de Hendry Thomas? Imposible. Resulto no ser camiseta del Wigan sino el que lucio Honduras en el mundial de Sudafrica. Lo debi haber saludado pero no lo hice. Pero si le vi la cara, y definitivamente no era el mismo Hendry. Seria imposible no reconocer esa cara!

Se me ocurrio que los dioses del futbol me estaban mandando un mensaje. Casualidad o no, me levantó los ánimos y me puse a pensar en Hendry Thomas y sus predecesores en esa labor de destructor, de volante seis: Lee Cattermole, Wilson Palacios y Michael Brown, por ejemplo. ¿Qué pasó con Hendry? Mi ultima memoria de el es del partido contra Tottenham el año pasado cuando regalo un penal. Desde entonces no se ha visto, ni en la banca ni en las reservas. Es dificil saber si se trata de su nivel futbolistico o algo mas. Cuando Roberto Martínez se hizo cargo del Wigan, vendio a Cattermole y a Brown, mientras Palacios ya habia sido cedido al Tottenham. Los tres fueron claves en la transformación de Steve Bruce, quien se decidio en construir el equipo de atras hacia adelante, con una defensa solida y protegida, con un par de atacantes creativos y oportunistas. El futbol no era tan bonito, pero funcionó.

Durante la primera etapa de su temporada debut en la Premier League, Hendry Thomas fue muy efectivo en ese papel de destructor. Las estadísticas confirmaban que el Hondureño era uno de los dos jugadores de la liga con mas pelotas recuperadas. El otro fue Scott Parker — quien fue votado el mejor jugador de la Premier el año pasado. Pero se desvaneció en la última parte de la temporada y no lo hemos vuelto a ver. Desde entonces, Ben Watson — quien ha mejorado en marca pero es mas armador que luchador — se ha establecido en esa posicion.

Para mi, hace falta la labor de Hendry, especialmente en tiempos dificiles como los que estamos viviendo. Algunos dicen que esta version de los Latics estan obsesionados con el fútbol bonito. ¿Pero qué dicen las estadísticas? Hasta ahora, el Wigan Athletic ha cometido 153 faltas, segundo lugar detras de nuestros viejos amigos, Blackburn, con 157. Wigan ha ganado 106 faltas, colocándolos en el puesto 18 con sólo Everton (105) y Blackburn (104) debajo de ellos. QPR ha ganado 159 faltas. Las estadísticas son informativas: los Latics comenten muchas faltas, pero no lo hacen efectivamente. Ni me acuerdo de una falta tactica, para romper ritmo, para frustrar al mejor jugador del rival A nosotros nos hacen faltas estrategicas, profesionales. Nosotros las cometemos desesperados.

Hendry Thomas es un gran contencion. La mayoria de las veces gana la pelota limpiamente, pero cuando no lo hace asi, tambien cumple una labor importantisima — le inyecta miedo al rival. Entra fuerte, es fisico. Sus pases son simples pero no la regala, y el tipo lo da todo por el equipo. Cada equipo necesita un Hendry Thomas.

Roberto debe cambiar su sistema táctico para adaptarse a la situación en la que estamos. Hay espacio para ambos Thomas y Watson. Para sobrevivir en la Premier, le tenemos que dar mas proteccion a nuestra defensa. Le tengo mucha fe a Martinez, un tecnico joven idealista, pero su rigidez táctica es su talón de Aquiles. No se olvide del Hondureño Roberto!

A vision of steel – bring back Hendry Thomas

EN ESPANOL

I was utterly depressed  after watching the Wolves match. That sinking feeling that one frequently gets as a Latics fan really hit me for six.  “Why don’t you support another team? You are a pain in the neck to live with when Latics lose. Come to think of it, this is the worst I can remember you being”, remarked my wife.  She was right. Like Latics I was short of inspiration last weekend, downright miserable to be precise.

A couple of days later I was walking down the street when I saw a tallish dark-skinned person wearing a blue and white shirt with the name ‘Thomas’ on the back. Another Latics supporter in this far-flung part of the world? A Hendry Thomas fan?  Surely not. On closer examination I determined that it was not a Wigan Athletic  shirt but the outfit  Honduras had worn in the World Cup, with the blue and white stripes.  I should have plucked up the courage to talk to the man but I didn’t. However, I did see his face and it definitely was not Hendry himself. How could anyone fail to recognize his remarkable visage?

Did this really happen? Was somebody trying to send me a message? Fluke occurence or not,  it certainly cheered me up. It got me thinking about Hendry Thomas and his predecessors in that ‘touch of steel’ role: Lee Cattermole, Wilson Palacios and Michael Brown coming to mind. Whatever happened to Hendry? I remember him giving away a bad penalty, against Tottenham I think it was. Since then he has hardly seemed to exist. Is it a case of one bad game or is there something deeper going on? When Roberto Martinez took over at Wigan both Cattermole and Brown were allowed to go, Palacios having previously been sold to Tottenham.  The three had been key players in Steve Bruce’s transformation of  a Wigan side that had been in complete disarray when he took over from Chris Hutchings. Bruce’s strategy was to build a solid back four with a combative midfield in front of it. Then he would rely on the ‘flair players’ to pinch a goal or two. It worked.

For the first half of his first Premier League season Hendry Thomas was very effective in that midfield destroyer role. Statistics at the time placed him in the top two players in the division for tackles won. Scott Parker was the other one. He faded out in the latter part of the season and this was to be repeated again last year. Ben Watson was to establish himself in that holding role in front of the back four, his tackling really improving and his distribution providing a touch of class.

Am I advocating for the return of the tough Honduran? I certainly am! There are some who say that this Latics team doesn’t get  stuck in enough, that they are obsessed with playing pretty, pretty football. What do the statistics say? Up to this point Wigan Athletic have committed 153 fouls, second only in the fouling league to our old friends, Blackburn, who have 157. Latics have won 106 fouls, placing them in 18th place with only Everton (105) and Blackburn (104) below them.  QPR have won 159 fouls . The stats are illuminating: they suggest Latics foul a lot and don’t get  fouled so much themselves. How many bad Latics fouls do I remember? Any memorable ones? I can remember several of those of the opposition: professional fouling designed to stop our key players. But malicious  Latics fouls are hard to recall. On the flip side: if you pass the ball sideways or back most of the time then you are unlikely to draw a foul. Oh for players with the confidence to run at the opposition and draw fouls, score goals.

Hendry Thomas is a great ball retriever. He does not commit so many more fouls than Latics’ average, but he breathes fear into the opposition. He wins tackles. His distribution is steady and he is a team player. Put him back in and the other team will not feel comfortable on the ball. We are all fed up of watching the other team play!

For goodness sake, Roberto: change your tactical system to fit the situation we are in. There is room for both Watson and Thomas, given a little tactical adjustment. The latter is something you need to think about if you want to keep our team up there. I am one of your greatest fans, but your tactical inflexibility is your Achilles’ heel. Please think of adjusting your mind-set…