Espinoza: Community College to FA Cup final


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.

WATCH: PL Download — Crystal Palace: South London and Proud

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Check out the latest episode of Premier League Download, a look inside Crystal Palace and the club’s passionate supporters.

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Win, lose or draw it’s always a party for the fans of Crystal Palace and Roger Bennett travels to Selhurst Park to learn how the beloved team went from Championship strugglers to a Premier League success story.

[ WATCH: Past episodes of PL Download ]

Klopp: “Perfect result” caps off perfect week for Liverpool

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Eight days, three games, three wins, seven goals scored and just two conceded — Liverpool’s week, by the numbers.

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From the thrashing of Manchester City last Saturday, to advancing to the knockout stage of the Europa League on Thursday, to grinding out a 1-0 home win over Swansea City on Sunday, it’s been another solid week for the Reds and still-new manager Jurgen Klopp, who now find themselves all the way up to sixth in the Premier League, just four points outside the top-four.

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL roundup — Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs all draw ]

Following Sunday’s triumph as Anfield, Klopp was his usual jovial self and rightfully pleased with his side’s results over the last eight days. Klopp, speaking in his post-game television interview (above video):

“A perfect result against a strong opponent — a very, very good defending opponent. [The Liverpool players] did a good job in the last week — a good reaction on their results; they defended really good; closed their gaps. … It was a difficult game. We had to change in the second half. … It was difficult — the wind and the opponent, but the result is perfect.”

“All we need is (defensive) stability. Everybody can see our skills on offense when we can play and have a little bit of space. Of course we can create more chances and can play better passes in some situations, but for a few players it’s really hard in this moment because they have to play always. … I’m really proud tonight.”

Easily the toughest part of competing in Europa League is the quick return to Premier League action from Thursday to Sunday, well over half the time against a side that didn’t any one of Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Playing in the Europa League has cost clubs like Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur an unbelievable (though, relatively unquantifiable) number of points in their respective bids to break back into the PL’s top-four over the last few seasons. There’s a reason Slaven Bilic‘s West Ham United essentially punted on the Europa League back in August.

Premier League Sunday roundup: Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs all draw; Reds win

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Petr Cech of Arsenal looks dejected as Lewis Grabban of Norwich City (7) scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images
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The Europa League slate helped give us a quartet of Sunday morning Premier League fixtures, but only five goals through those four games.

Only Liverpool seized the chance to make a move up the table, as James Milner‘s penalty conversion moved the Reds closer to the Top Four, while Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal all settled for draws.

[ SUNDAY RUMORS: Vardy, Neymar, Stones all in the headlines ]

And Arsenal is facing a worsening injury crisis

Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 Chelsea — RECAP

The most notable storyline heading into this match was Diego Costa‘s reported feud with Jose Mourinho, and the Chelsea boss opted to use Pedro up top instead of his best center forward. The play was even, and Chelsea probably looked the better for a goal, and Costa remained unused before tossing his bib toward Mourinho. Surely more to come. From the Spurs’ angle, the North London side missed a chance to assert itself as a title contestant. Mauricio Pochettino‘s side remains four points back of first place.

Liverpool 1-0 Swansea CityRECAP

Not much to like here, and Liverpool could’ve scored several times before Swans’ Neil Taylor gave up a penalty by keeping his arms out as he turned away from Jordon Ibe’s cross. James Milner converted, sending Jurgen Klopp‘s side closer to the Top Four (four points back of No. 4 Arsenal).

Norwich City 1-1 Arsenal — RECAP

Speaking of the Gunners, they scored a goal off a John Ruddy gaffe, but lost Laurent Koscielny and Alexis Sanchez to injury, also sacrificing an equalizer when Robbie Brady and Lewis Grabban teamed up to get the better of Gabriel Paulista and Petr Cech. Heady times for title hopes at the Emirates, but Sunderland and Aston Villa are next.

West Ham United 1-1 West Bromwich Albion — RECAP

A simply-gorgeous free kick goal from Mauro Zarate was on of several good bits of work by the home side, but Winston Reid picked up an own goal on his 150th West Ham appearance to leave this one a draw.

Liverpool 1-0 Swansea City: Milner’s PK the difference for Reds

James Milner, Liverpool FC
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Jurgen Klopp‘s resurgent Liverpool is within four points of the Top Four after a second-half penalty helped the Reds to a 1-0 win over Swansea City at Anfield on Sunday.

James Milner converted a Jordon Ibe-won PK to boost Liverpool to 23 points, good for sixth place.

Swansea is in 15th place with just 14 points, having cooled off considerably.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Liverpool nearly opened the scoring in the sixth minute when Adam Lallana slipped Jordon Ibe in on goal, but Kyle Bartley slid to tackle the ball off the goal post.

The opening 20 minutes belonged to the Reds, with timely tackles and deflections saving Swansea on several occasions.

Nothing got through.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score ]  

Liverpool went ahead on a PK. converted the chance after Ibe’s cross was handled by Neil Taylor.

Swansea looked better from the goal onward, but couldn’t find an equalizer.