Sporting Kansas City has continued the re-shaping of its roster by signing one of the key cogs in its MLS rise.
Roger Espinoza, who was drafted out of Ohio State University by the then-Kansas City Wizards in 2008 before moving to the English Premier League with Wigan Athletic in 2012, will return to MLS with the club where he began his professional career, Sporting KC announced on Tuesday.
"It's an exciting day for us," Sporting Manager Peter Vermes said in a press conference. "I'm not sure if Roger recalls this or not, but I remember when we were talking about his opportunity to go over to England (in late 2012) that the door would remain open here for him to come back someday if he ever was in position to do that. The tremendous thing is we're sitting here before you today with the opportunity to do this."
Over his four years in Kansas City, Espinoza developed a reputation as one of MLS' most tenacious central midfielders, leading his club into a new era with the rebrand to Sporting Kansas City and into a new stadium at Sporting Park. Espinoza captured the attention of Europe after his solid performances with the Honduras national team at the 2012 Olympic Games, and left for Wigan on a free transfer in January 2013 after helping Kansas City win the 2012 U.S. Open Cup. His success in cup competitions would continue on the other side of the Atlantic, as Espinoza played the whole game in Wigan's 1-0 upset of Manchester City in the FA Cup final.
As Wigan manager Roberto Martinez moved on to Everton, Espinoza's opportunities became more limited with his English club. Espinoza made 18 appearances in the English second tier last season while also helping Wigan to the FA Cup semi-finals and in the UEFA Europa League.
Espinoza played with Honduras at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, then returned to England and made 12 league appearances before Wigan released him from his contract to allow him to join his new (old) club.
"Obviously (I left) two years ago to play in the Premier League. While I was there, I had the opportunity to win the FA Cup. Honestly, that changed my career," Espinoza said. "You win that type of game -- in that type of atmosphere with all the media -- it changes you as a player, it gives you more responsibility."
Espinoza is the latest acquisition by a Sporting Kansas City team that started hot but suffered a late-season collapse that ended its hopes of defending its 2013 MLS Cup title. So far this offseason, the team has traded or otherwise parted company with defender Aurelien Collin, forward C.J. Sapong, midfielders Sal Zizzo and Soony Saad, while signing Hungarian forward Krisztian Nemeth, Chilean goalkeeper Luis Marin, defender Jalil Anibaba, and a handful of others in addition to Espinoza.