Espinoza: Community College to FA Cup final

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On Saturday afternoon at Wembley Stadium in England, Roger Espinoza will likely lineup against Manchester City for Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup final, in front of 90,000 fans and watched by billions around the globe.

The razzmatazz and splendor of that event far surpasses Espinoza’s early days in soccer.

His journey from standout player at Yavapai Community College in Arizona, to one season at Ohio State University and then making it big with Sporting Kansas City in MLS is quite an extraordinary one.

Espinoza spoke to the local media in Wigan, as he prepares for one of the biggest games of his life.

“This was one of the reasons I came here, to be involved in big occasions like this,” Espinoza said. “Obviously I knew I was also coming in to a relegation battle, but I’m just happy to be here and we’ve got plenty still to play for. We have the FA Cup to compete for, before two big games in the league which we really have to win.”

As Espinoza said, Wigan are in deep trouble in the EPL. With two games left they are three points from safety. The defeat on Wednesday was a hammer blow in their efforts to stave of relegation once again, after the last three seasons have seen dramatic  late escapes.

Tuesday’s 3-2 home loss to Swansea wasn’t in the script. Even though Espinoza scored his first EPL goal.

“I was obviously happy to score my first goal for Wigan, I was just sorry it didn’t help us to win the game,” Espinoza said. “Things have been going well for me since I arrived, but I need to finish the season well and help the team push on.”

Whatever the outcome of the FA Cup final (live on Saturday at 12:15pm ET, on Fox) and the EPL relegation battle, Espinoza has come a long, long way since turning out for the Yavapai Roughriders. The Honduran international — Espinoza moved to Colorado at the age of 12 and became a US citizen in 2008 —  is hoping his EPL journey continues past May 19.
(More: Wigan’s defeat to Swansea eases EPL relegation battle)

If not, an FA Cup winners medal would be a great consolation prize after only joining Wigan from Sporting Kansas City in January.

But if the Latics are relegated, should Espinoza remain loyal to the cause?

He only has to look a few miles down the road in Bolton to see Tim Ream struggling for first team action with the Trotters in a near identical situation. Ream was desperate for an EPL move, so joined Bolton from the New York Red Bulls in the January 2012 transfer window. But they were relegated on the final day of last season and Ream now finds himself out of the USMNT picture and on the subs bench more often than not.

If Wigan fail in their quest to stay up this year, Espinoza has a big decision to make this summer. But he can worry about that later. He has an FA Cup final to win.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. West Bromwich Albion

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  • West Bromwich Albion hope to choose from goalkeepers Ben Foster (back) and Boaz Myhill (hamstring) for the trip to St Mary’s. Hal Robson-Kanu (strain), James Morrison (calf) and Oliver Burke (hamstring) will all be absent for the Baggies.
  • Southampton are again without Jeremy Pied but have no other injury concerns.
  • Of all teams to have met in at least seven different Premier League campaigns, Southampton v West Brom has the lowest goals-per-match ratio in the competition (21 in 14 matches, 1.5 per match). 
  • Dusan Tadic has been directly involved in a goal in each of his last three PL appearances against the Baggies (one goal, two assists).

Two mid-table sides meet up in the south of England as Southampton hosts West Bromwich Albion at 13:20 p.m. Saturday afternoon. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Both teams are struggling for form heading into the match. West Brom is winless in its last seven games while Southampton has just one win in its last five, coughing up a chance to defeat Newcastle a week ago.

It’s a big boost for Southampton though that Manolo Gabbiadini is back on the scoresheet after scoring twice against Newcastle. It was Gabbiadini’s first goal since the second week of the Premier League season.

At the other end, West Brom have a worry with both of its top two goalkeepers, Ben Forster and Boaz Myhill. recovering from injuries.

What they’re saying

Southampton manager Manuel Pellegrino on his team: “The reaction of the team was really good, but we have to start from the beginning with this spirit. Sometimes you have to be patient, because at the beginning teams have more energy, they are fresher and they can press you better. I think we feel comfortable with the ball. If we are precise with the ball and with our tempo, we can create more problems – it doesn’t matter who we are playing. We know that West Brom are really strong physically, and dangerous from set plays and on the counter-attack. That’s something we’ve been working on this week. Every single week we are learning from our last few games, and I feel that my players are better prepared.”

West Bromwich manager Tony Pulis on facing Southampton: “They’re a good footballing team. Pellegrino has come in with his own ideas and the way he wants to play. From watching them in a couple of games away from St Mary’s they seem a little more relaxed. They look a little more uptight at home. But I’m sure they’ll become the team everyone knows they can be.”

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Prediction

West Bromwich doesn’t look closer to stopping its slide down the table, especially on the road. Even with Jay Rodriguez returning to his former club, Southampton should find the offense to put Tony Pulis and West Brom away. Southampton 2-1 West Bromwich Albion

Watch Live: West Ham vs. Brighton and Hove Albion

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West Ham and Brighton kick off the weekend’s Premier League action at the London Stadium on Friday afternoon. (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN an online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Both teams have just eight points from eight games, and are looking to move up in the table with a win.

Manuel Lanzini makes his second consecutive start, playing behind Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in West Ham’s 4-2-3-1 formation. On the other side, Tomer Hemed sits his final match of his three-match suspension, with Glen Murray playing atop the 4-4-1-1 Brighton formation.

LINEUPS

West Ham United: Hart; Zabaleta, Fonte, Reid, Masuaku; Kouate, Obiang; Antonio, Lanzini, Arnautovic; Chicharito Hernandez. Subs: Adrian, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Byram, Ayew, Noble, Fernandes

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan; Bong, Duffy, Dunk, Saltor; Izquierdo, Propper, Stephens, Knockaert; Gross; Murray. Subs: Krul, Goldson, Suttner, Schelotto, Molumby, March, Brown.

Report: FIFA considering updating international rules

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Under current FIFA rules, once a player plays a senior international competitive match, they’re cap-tied permanently to that nation. But that rule could be changing.

That’s according to a report from Reuters, which quotes CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani that FIFA could look into updating some of its nationality laws. Montagliani is the head of FIFA’s stakeholders committee.

“There are so many issues that have popped up over the years because the world is changing, immigration is changing,” Montagliani said. “There are nationality issues that pop up all over the world, in Africa, there are issues in Asia and CONCACAF, so its a good time to have a look at this and see if there are solutions, without hurting the integrity of the game.”

Changing the rules would have a big impact on nations with diverse populations or nationalities with large diasporas.

The report states the Cape Verdean FA requested relaxing the rule of cap-tying a player after playing a competitive game, if that player drops out of the player pool and likely wouldn’t be called up again. Cape Verde relies on a lot of Portugal-based and raised players with Cape Verdean heritage.

A relaxation of the rules could have an affect on U.S. Men’s National Team players as well. In theory, if Kenny Saief decided he wanted to play for Israel again, under a relaxation of the rules, and some sort of proof that a new USMNT coach wouldn’t call him up, Israel could potentially use him. In addition, players such as Cristian Roldan or Jesse Gonzalez could in theory be lost should they fall down the depth chart and other countries they’re eligible for.

 

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Watford

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  • Chelsea are without N'Golo Kante, Victor Moses (both hamstring) and Danny Drinkwater (calf) is still absent.
  • Watford remain without Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Prodl (both thigh), plus long-term absentees Craig Cathcart, Nathaniel Chalobah and Isaac Success (all knee).
  • Watford have not won against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since 1986, but the Hornets have won 10 points of a possible 12 on the road. 
  • Chelsea have lost three of their first eight matches this season. No team has ever lost this many of their opening eight matches and still won the Premier League title.

Watford heads south for another London derby with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Hornets have had an amazing start to the season and currently occupy fourth place on 15 points, two points ahead of fifth-place Chelsea, which has lost two-straight Premier League games. The Blues have struggled without N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata and there have been reports of grumbles from the squad about dissatisfaction with Antonio Conte‘s training methods, but the Chelsea coach has brushed those rumors off.

Meanwhile Watford is coming off a confidence-boosting win last weekend against fellow Londoners Arsenal, and the club is looking to take down another big club for a second-straight week.

What they’re saying

Watford manager Marco Silva on his team’s start“I want everybody to be really calm. We did really in the first eight matches but it’s too early. We want to continue to work hard every day. Everything changes fast and you need to keep going and treat the next game as the most important. But of course I feel proud.”

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte on being under pressure: “‘Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

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Prediction

Chelsea has its back against the wall but the team’s overall quality should be enough to see them through with all three points against Watford. The Hornets luck runs out in Stamford Bridge as Chelsea hold on for a late win. Chelsea 2-1 Watford