Sporting KC Show Podcast: Roger Espinoza talks COVID-19 and reflects on his FA Cup run with Wigan Athletic

The Sporting Kansas City Show, dropping throughout the season on Sports Radio 810 WHB, is available on several podcast hubs including Spotify and iTunes as well as SportingKC.com/SportingKCShow. With Nate Bukaty, Jacob Peterson, Carter Augustine and Aly Trost hosting the weekly program, Sporting fans have a place to go to catch up on club storylines, player achievements, guest interviews and more.


A new episode of the Sporting Kansas City Show debuted Tuesday night on Sports Radio 810 WHB as hosts Nate Bukaty, Carter Augustine and Aly Trost caught up with Sporting midfielder Roger Espinoza.

Like everyone else in the United States and across the globe, Espinoza has seen his everyday life turned upside down by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With Major League Soccer targeting May 10 for the resumption of matches and prohibiting full-team training through April 3, Espinoza has been forced to stay fit from the comfort of his own home as Kansas Citians abide by a stay-at-home order.

In addition to reflecting on recent coronavirus developments, Espinoza launched into a must-listen story about his famous English FA Cup championship with Wigan Athletic in the spring of 2013. Espinoza had joined Wigan from Sporting after the 2012 MLS campaign and immediately became in integral contributor for the Premier League Club. The Latics would shock the soccer world upon the Honduran midfielder's arrival, embarking on a Cinderella run in England's heralded domestic cup competition that culminated with an unlikely 1-0 victory over high-spending heavyweights Manchester City in the final at Wembley Stadium.

Listen to the full podcast above and check out select remarks from Espinoza below.

On his at-home training routine…

Thankfully the city allows you to go outside and run, so that’s what I’ve been doing. I set up my Garmin to take me through the streets and go for three, four or five miles. It gives me a GPS of where to go, so I can do the majority of my workout here in my concrete jungle. The good thing is that Joey Harty, our performance coach, gives us a lot of core workouts that we can do at home. That keeps our core strength going, and for our cardio we can go out onto the streets. Hopefully this doesn’t last too much longer and we’re able to get back to soccer.

I live in Westport, so yesterday I ran from here to the Crossroads and back. That was close to five miles. No taking my shirt off because it’s been pretty cold out there. It’s a good sweat and I still feel in very good shape. I do these runs as fast as I can and try to sweat it out. It was definitely a good workout for me.

On the challenges of staying soccer-fit…

It’s been hard, absolutely. Cardio is just one (component of staying fit). Playing soccer (involves) stopping, running and cutting. That comes with playing and competing against your teammates, so that’s something we’re going to have to see when we get back. It’s difficult right now, but we were definitely in good shape at the beginning of the season. Hopefully we can maintain that as best we can, but you won’t know until you get back to playing again.

On how he learned about the MLS season suspension on March 12…

We had heard that (the suspension of the season) was a possibility. The San Jose game (on March 21) had already been postponed, so we kind of knew it was only a matter of time before something bigger was going to be decided. We did not think the Atlanta game (on March 14) was going to be canceled, so we went about our normal ways at training. We were concentrated and ready. We had started the season (great) and we didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in the background of it all. We were ready for that game, but after practice on that Thursday, Peter Vermes and the doctors told us that the season had been (suspended). We were okay with it because we knew it was something that needed to be addressed. It was health before anything else.

On how Wigan’s FA Cup run began in 2013…

You see the FA Cup here in the U.S. and you know it’s a great tournament. But in England, you see the magnitude of it even bigger. People in your town just come together for those games. Our very first game in the tournament that year was Bournemouth. They’re in the Premier League now, but they were a good lower-division team at the time. In the FA Cup, if you tie the first game at home, you have a replay away. I hadn’t been in England for any more than a week, and the coach (Roberto Martinez) told me I would train for a month and maybe start coming on as a sub. But one week after being there, we played Bournemouth in the FA Cup and he started me. We ended up tying at home, so we had to go all the way to the south of England for the replay. With Wigan being a smaller team, we had a lot of tired legs, but we ended up winning the replay. From there, we just kept going and going.

On the growing challenge of fighting relegation and staying alive in the FA Cup…

It was difficult because we were also fighting relegation. Being a lower team in England, that’s the case most of the time. That got very hard to balance, but we kept going in the FA Cup and we got to play at Everton in the quarterfinals. If you get to the semifinals, that’s when you start playing at Wembley Stadium. Being from a small town in England like Wigan, north of Manchester, the whole town wants to go to Wembley. That’s like going to Madison Square Garden in the NCAA Tournament or NBA. So everybody at Wigan put some serious pressure on the players. About half of the stadium at Everton, which is just 20-25 minutes from Wigan, was all Wigan fans. We ended up winning the game 3-0.

On facing Millwall in the FA Cup semifinals at Wembley…

In the semifinals at Wembley we played Millwall fans, and I can tell you this: Millwall fans are not the nicest fans. Wigan fans were definitely not excited that we had drawn them because there were going to be fights all over the stadium. They’re known as the club that gets in trouble all the time. There’s a movie “Green Street Hooligans” that’s all about Millwall. They’re ruthless fans—and they’re great because they really support their team—but sometimes it leads to violent events. We won 2-0 and Manchester City beat (Chelsea) in the other semifinal.

On facing Manchester City in the FA Cup final…

We were a little scared at the end of the day, getting Man City in the final. We were fighting relegation, but then we had the cup final, and after that we had to go to Arsenal in the Premier League. Those were the last few games of the season. We knew that Man City was a very tough team, but at the same time we were playing amazingly. Wigan was a team that everyone in England enjoyed watching. Props to our coach, Roberto Martinez, who prepared us tactically all week to play Man City. He pretty much laid it out for us and said, “Hey, this is how they’re going to play against us. If you do this (follow the game plan), we’re going to win no matter what.” He ended up playing a 3-5-2, and I was actually used as a left winger. The whole season I had been a midfielder, and somehow in this game he said I would be going up against James Milner and Jesus Navas as a winger. I had to push up high, pressure Milner and prevent them from pushing up high.

On Wigan’s game-winning goal in stoppage time…

Ben Watson, who had been injured the entire season with a broken leg, got back just in time for that game pretty much. We put him in as a sub, and on one of the last corner kicks of the game in stoppage time, he got on the end of a corner kick and headed it in. There was like a minute left, we ended up winning the game, and it was just unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about it before, but the euphoria of the celebration was crazy. I don’t thing Wigan’s fans or ownership cared if we got relegated when they knew we just won the FA Cup. It was the biggest accomplishment in club history. To be part of that Wigan team and be part of one of the biggest upsets in English football was amazing.

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