As momentum builds toward Major League Soccer’s 26th season in 2021, Sporting Kansas City players and coaches will look to lay the foundations for another successful campaign when preseason training unfolds this month in Arizona.
With newcomers joining familiar faces for the 2021 preseason presented by Children’s Mercy, SportingKC.com has launched the “Sporting Preseason Spotlight” web series to acquaint supporters with the goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards who will help Sporting Kansas City compete for silverware in 2021. To read up on every player and visit the series archive as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/Spotlight.
One of the most accomplished players in Sporting Kansas City history treated fans to celebratory news in early 2021 when Roger Espinoza signed a one-year contract extension with the club. Epitomizing toughness, industry and leadership, the 34-year-old Espinoza has worn Sporting’s colors as proudly as anyone since his first stint at the club began in 2008.
Oh boy, where to begin? Espinoza has helped lead Sporting to three Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups and seven playoff appearances over the course of 301 competitive matches and 271 starts. The club’s midfield rock regularly places among the MLS leaders in tackles and duels, but it should not be overlooked that he has also tallied 41 career assists in Sporting blue. Internationally, he represented Honduras at the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups, the 2012 Summer Olympics and two editions of the Concacaf Gold Cup.
The 2020 campaign saw Espinoza tie a career-high with three goals, including his first postseason tally in a thrilling win over the San Jose Earthquakes in the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs on Nov. 22 at Children’s Mercy Park. He also scored in Sporting’s home-opening 4-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo on March 7 and provided the match-winner in a playoff-clinching 1-0 road win at FC Cincinnati on Oct. 28. Espinoza ended 2020 with starts in 16 of 20 appearances, also adding two assists.
At 34 years of age, Espinoza is in the twilight of his storied career. He has been one of the first names on Manager Peter Vermes’ team sheet for the last several seasons, although it remains to be seen what on-field load he will carry in 2021.
“I’ll compete for a starting spot,” Espinoza said during a press conference in January. “That’s been the same case every year. That was the case last year and that will be the case this year, too. At the end of the day, I don’t make those decisions. It’s the technical staff, but I’ll be ready for however they need me.”
Since the dawn of the Opta era in 2010, Espinoza ranks third in MLS in duels won (1,358) and fifth in tackles won (416) with a single club.
He Said It
“Roger (brings) leadership. He still has a lot to give on the field, for sure, but the way he is with the young players is priceless. We have quite a few young players on the team and having someone like Roger around as we continue to transition with players in the first team is very valuable to us. It was a signing not just for his play on the field, but for his intangibles that are sometimes really hard to find.”
Sporting Manager Peter Vermes during a press conference after Espinoza’s re-signing in January.
Did You Know?
Off the field, Espinoza has been an active member of the Kansas City community who has participated in numerous events tied to The Victory Project, the club’s philanthropic foundation dedicated to helping children affected by cancer and all of life’s challenges. He is a spokesperson for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and became a volunteer partner with humanitarian nonprofit Unbound in 2015, conducting soccer clinics in underserved parts of Honduras. Last fall, he rallied support for Hurricane Eta relief by raising awareness and money alongside fellow Hondurans who play in MLS.