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Q&A: Wizards defender Roger Espinoza

Honduran reflects on whirlwind year, WCup, fellow Honduran Najar

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – To put it mildly, Roger Espinoza has had a whirlwind 2010.

Over the past 10 months, the 23-year-old left back has played his way into the Honduran national team, solidified a starting spot at left back with the Wizards and started for his country at this summer’s World Cup in South Africa.

MLSsoccer.com sat down with Espinoza after practice this week to discuss his breakout season, plans for the future and even the fate of 17-year-old Honduran sensation Andy Najar.

MLSsoccer.com: In a lot of ways, this has been a breakout season for you. You’ve locked down a starting spot in Kansas City, you’re playing regularly for Honduras and went to the World Cup. How has this season lived up to what you expected from yourself?

Espinoza: I’m happy with what I’m doing right now, but I definitely want to get to better things. I want to do better on the field. I want to go to the next World Cup. I want to win an MLS Cup and a US Open Cup. I’m just working hard. Hopefully, this year we can make it to the playoffs. I want to get to better things, but so far I’m happy with what I’m doing and trying to get better.

MLSsoccer.com: That seems like the theme for you: The present is good, but there is always more out there. What do you feel like you have to improve on or accomplish to start making those steps happen and continue the progression in your career?

Espinoza: Just work hard on knowing how to move around the field, use the right times in the game as far as when to go and when to stay and communicate a little more with my teammates to make the game easier for them. There is plenty more that I can’t remember off the top of my head right now, but I’m just trying to work hard and continue improving my game.

MLSsoccer.com: You’ve played left back here in Kansas City, but Honduras like to use you in left midfielder and you’ve played in the attack a lot growing up. How have you grown as a defender this season and what have you had to work on to make sure you are doing your job back there?

Espinoza: Like you said, Honduras uses me more in an offensive role whereas here I’m more defensive now. I’m glad I can play both positions. It’s good because you never know wherever you go whether they will need or use you as a left mid or left back. I’m ready for whatever they need me to do and whatever the team needs me to do. I’m kind of happy that I’m used in both positions. Peter [Vermes, Wizards head coach] knows I can play left mid, too. That’s good because I get more opportunities to play wherever I’m at. It just allows me to improve my game at both positions.

MLSsoccer.com: You had some trouble holding onto a starting spot until this season. What do you think you’ve this year to really solidify your role as the starting left back and say, "This is my spot"?

Espinoza: I haven’t gotten injured this year. My first year I broke my ankle and coming back my second year I got injured too a couple times. I think being injury free has helped me a lot just to be able to work hard and stay fit. In my rookie year I got two red cards, which didn’t help. It got better after that, and I’m improving every day and keeping my head in the game. Everything is better.

MLSsoccer.com: For you personally, how would you like to see your career progress in the next four years as you try to go to your second World Cup?

Espinoza: It would be a huge success if I can keep up in the national team. I know very good up-and-coming players in Honduras in the U-20 and younger teams. I’m trying to work hard here with the Kansas City Wizards. And if it’s not here, hopefully move on to leagues in Europe. Like I said though, I have to improve my game here with the Wizards and prove myself if I want to go anywhere or even stay here. I want to win an MLS Cup and Open Cup with Kansas City. I just want to keep getting better here, and hopefully I will be ready for 2014.

MLSsoccer.com: The speculation around Andy Najar is pretty big news in Honduras. What do you think about him?

Espinoza: He’s a good player. I had the opportunity to play against him here in his first game as a starter so it was all kind of new to him then. But it seems as the year has gone on, he’s improved his game. I think he has five goals. As a 17-year-old around the league, I don’t think many players have done that. It’s good that he’s keeping it up over there when DC isn’t doing too well. He keeps plugging away, learning and doing better. Hopefully, he picks Honduras because I think he’ll help the national team a lot.

MLSsoccer.com: He’s certainly showing a lot of promise. What would it mean for Honduras to hold on to players like Najar and have the national team be a place where players strive to be instead of exploring other options?

Espinoza: We made it to the World Cup this past year. I think if we keep doing that and making it to tournaments and making it far, that’s going to make kids want to play for the national team. Kids like Andy Najar and even someone like me. Even though I didn’t get a call from the United States, I was in the US and when Honduras called, I didn’t hesitate to go because I wanted to play in the World Cup. That’s what is going to make kids want to come.

MLSsoccer.com: Pick a highlight from the last year that you are going to look back on for the rest of your life.

Espinoza: The World Cup, definitely. I don’t think there is anything else that will be in my mind more. Playing that very first game and listening to the national anthem … just being there is every kid’s dream who plays soccer. I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life. Even if I go to 2014, the first World Cup is going to be special. I’m always going to remember South Africa and the people there.