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.

LVG would only return to club football to get at Man Utd

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Leave it to The Daily Mirror to find that last bit of juice when it comes to Manchester United and former manager Louis Van Gaal.

Well, probably the last bit.

The Dutch manager said he does not expect to return to club football, unless one of the big boys in the Premier League offered him the chance to take a run at United. The Red Devils, of course, fired him shortly after an FA Cup title in order to hire Jose Mourinho.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

From The Mirror, quoting LVG at a Sunday night function in Rotterdam.

“I will probably not manage a club anymore,” Van Gaal said. “I would make one exception: If a big English club comes for me, than I would do it. Because then I can get the chance to get one over on Manchester United.’’

Could you see him getting a run at any of the Top Four contenders, even on a caretaker basis? Could Liverpool come calling if they tired of Jurgen Klopp one season, or might Arsenal or even Everton need a stopgap (should the Toffees spending come good)?

Suspended Villar says Spain in danger of missing World Cup

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The suspended president of the Spanish soccer federation, who is under investigation for corruption, tried Monday to stoke up fears that the country could be kicked out of the World Cup because of government interference.

Angel Maria Villar, who is free on bail, spoke at a news conference in Madrid and again denied any wrongdoing. He also blamed the government for meddling in the federation’s affairs by suspending him.

“This government is putting Spain’s participation in the World Cup at risk,” the 67-year-old Villar said in his first news conference since being arrested in July along with his son, Gorka Villar, and two other officials.

[ BLANC: I turned down USMNT talks ]

“The risk is serious,” Villar said. “The only party responsible for Spain not going to the World Cup will be the Spanish government.”

Villar spoke three days after FIFA said it was concerned about the independence of the Spanish soccer federation and that it would soon send a delegation to analyze the situation. FIFA made no mention of a possible suspension of the federation, which could keep Spain out of next year’s World Cup in Russia or even knock Real Madrid and Barcelona out of the Champions League.

Villar, who has spent time behind bars to impede the possible destruction of evidence, and the other three officials are being investigated for alleged improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar resigned his vice presidencies of both FIFA and UEFA following his arrest. But he tried to stay on as the head of Spanish federation, a post he held for three decades.

His refusal to listen to pleas for him to step down led the Spanish government to suspend him from the post for one year pending the outcome of the investigation. Court documents allege that besides misappropriated funds, Villar is suspected of corrupting several regional federations by offering favors in exchange for votes.

Villar fired back at the government, saying his suspension had broken FIFA rules since it represented interference in the federation’s management.

“It’s easy to see that the source of concern was my arbitrary and unjustified removal from the presidency of the federation and for not respecting the presumption of innocence,” Villar said, adding that other teams are ready to take Spain’s place at the World Cup.

“Be careful. There are other powerful countries that didn’t qualify like Italy that are waiting to pounce and take our place,” Villar said.

Spain, which won the World Cup in 2010, is considered to be among the favorites for next year’s tournament.

Blanc: I turned down USMNT talks

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U.S. Soccer has not been inactive when it comes to the USMNT coaching search, despite its uncertainty with an impending presidential election.

Le Parisien has an interview with Laurent Blanc in which the ex-Bordeaux, France, and Paris Saint-Germain boss says he was approached by the United States Soccer Federation, but was not interested in the gig.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

Blanc said an international job would have to touch his roots, and he’s most certainly not American. The tall 52-year-old had a glittering playing career with Saint-Etienne, Barcelona, Marseille, Inter Milan, and Manchester United amongst other stops.

More important, it shows that Sunil Gulati and his men have to some degree moved forward with keeping their imprint on the national team.

That’s a little worrying on any team: A hierarchy that may not be around much longer may be working to fill a position arguably more important than its own. It’d be nice to have them commit to not hiring anyone until after February’s election.

Premier League Preview: Everton vs. Swansea City

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  • Everton leads all-time 15W-9D-3L
  • BUT Swans unbeaten in 7 vs. Toffees
  • Toffees go ninth with win
  • Swans four back of safety

Everton hopes its up-turn in form can end three seasons of futility against visiting Swansea City when the two sides meet at Goodison Park on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Gylfi Sigurdsson gets a chance to face his former club for the first time, while longtime Swans man Ashley Williams may also feature for Sam Allardyce.

Swansea has no time to focus on the past, as Paul Clement‘s men sit deep in the drop zone. The last place Swans are four points shy of safety.

What they’re saying

Everton’s Ashley Williams on facing his former club (again)“The game is a little bit more important to me, I would be lying I said it wasn’t. You always want to play against your old teams and it’s a fixture you always look for.  I have been looking forward to this one and it will be nice to see old faces and old friends. It is a game we want to win and to keep a clean sheet in, especially at home, in order to keep our momentum going.”

Swansea City’s Roque Mesa on the match“This is a massive game for us. We need to pick up points because we are bottom and we need to improve our position. Everton have a new manager and their players have done very well under him – you can see their confidence has grown since he joined. But we did well against West Brom and picked up three points, which was very important. Then we faced Manchester City and they proved too good for us. They are the best team in the league, and unfortunately, we couldn’t match them on the night.”

Prediction

Swans need to move past that Man City loss and build on a 1-0 win over West Brom a few days previous. That may not be possible at Goodison, and the Welsh side would be thrilled to escape with a draw. It seems unlikely. Everton 2-1.