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.”

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Boyce, McCarthy and Watson to stay

Good news today as Latics trio Ben Watson, Emmerson Boyce and James McCarthy signed new contracts for three, two and three years respectively. McCarthy had been linked with a move away during the summer but has decided to stay and further his career with the Latics, while deep lying playmaker Ben Watson has been rewarded for his increasingly influential displays in midfield. Everyone at the club will be delighted to hear Emmerson Boyce is sticking around for another couple years — he just keeps getting better with age.

Watson made mention of the “good feeling” at the club which suggests last season’s relegation battle and the relatively quiet summer of ins and outs has created strong team spirit. Boyce, already a father figure at 31 in this young side, has now been with Wigan all six of the club’s Premier League years and should handily break Paul Scharner’s record of most Premier League appearances this season. An under-appreciated player, Boyce has really flourished under Martinez, adding an attacking threat to his always reliable defensive work. And McCarthy, undoubtedly destined for one of the top clubs in the country, will continue to develop his game at Wigan Athletic, although the club will be lucky to hold onto him for all three years of his contract. The contract should, however, allow the club to ask for top dollar if the big boys do start circling in the next year or two.

Despite losing 3-1 to Arsenal earlier today, the reserves apparently looked very sharp. They had more than one goal disallowed and Callum McManaman hit the crossbar and had an effort cleared off the line when the game was still in the balance. Apparently, he and Nouha Dicko looked very dangerous throughout. Dicko is a natural left footer, who has been playing in that N’Zogbia right-wing role. Sounds really promising. Daniel Redmond scored the goal, a screamer from midfield. You can read the match report here.