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.