Beyond The Box Score: Roger Espinoza makes highly anticipated return in rare substitute appearance

Saturday night's 2-0 home defeat to FC Dallas left a taste of disappointment for Sporting Kansas City players and fans alike, but the spectacle did see a pivotal midfield contributor return to action.

After overcoming a knee injury that sidelined him for three months, grizzled MLS veteran Roger Espinoza entered in the 65th minute and provided a heavy dose of energy as Sporting sought to reduce their 2-0 deficit.

Espinoza's recovery comes at a timely juncture for Sporting, who now sit five points below the playoff line with 13 MLS regular season matches still to play between now and Decision Day on Oct. 6.

With just two players on the club's injury report—Jaylin Lindsey has returned to training while Rodney Wallace is out for the season—Sporting's squad is as healthy as it has been all year long. That will only help Manager Peter Vermes' side in its pursuit of a club-record ninth straight postseason berth.

As for Espinoza's cameo on Saturday, it marked quite the rarity. The last time the Honduran featured as a substitute in an MLS regular season match was Oct. 24, 2009, almost an entire decade ago. 

From March 27, 2010 to April 14, 2019, Espinoza reeled off 188 consecutive regular season appearances as a starter. That number stands as the second-longest run in team history. The only player with a longer streak is retired defender Nick Garcia, who started all 224 regular season matches for the club during his eight-year stint from 2000-2007.

Sporting KC: Most consecutive appearances as a starter
(Field players only, MLS regular season)

# Player Matches Start Stop
1 Nick Garcia 224 03/25/2000 10/20/2007
2 Roger Espinoza 188 03/27/2010 04/14/2019
3 Chris Klein 112 07/14/2001 10/15/2005
4 Jimmy Conrad 108 09/30/2006 10/12/2010
5 Matt Besler 107 07/04/2012 05/21/2016
6 Uche Okafor 105 04/13/1996 10/09/1999
7 Jimmy Conrad 95 04/12/2003 08/09/2006
8 Kerry Zavagnin 85 03/25/2000 09/20/2002
9 Preki 83 04/13/1996 09/19/1998
10 Mark Chung
Jack Jewsbury

As the table above indicates, captain Matt Besler is the only other current Sporting player to crack the top 10 in this particular stat. Sporting Legend Jimmy Conrad is the only player to have two separate streaks on the list.

It should be noted that the table consists of field players only and excludes the streaks of Sporting Kansas City goalkeepers. That crop would include Tim Melia's current run of 135 straight appearances as starts, plus the streaks of Jimmy Nielsen (128), Tony Meola (125) and Kevin Hartman (90).

An opportunity for Sporting to bounce back will arise Friday when the club visits New York City FC at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO.