Roger Espinoza: “Certainly with this team, we have the mentality that we can win away games, (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Front Row Soccer Editor
Buoyed by its success over the past decade, Honduras enters Friday night’s World Cup qualifier against the United States confident, confident that it can win and take home three valuable road points.
Los Catrachos did it once before against a Bruce Arena-coached team, in 2001, when they surprised the Americans with a 3-2 triumph in Washington, D.C.
True, that game occurred some 16 years ago, but the Hondurans have since participated in two World Cups and three Olympic soccer tournaments.
“Certainly with this team, we have the mentality that we can win away games,” Honduran midfielder Roger Espinoza said in a recent interview. “The 2001 generation is a lot different than the generation now. There’s not one player anymore from that team on the national team now. But that’s what the culture has evolved.
“It started in 2001, going to the Olympics, around that time, its building up. Players are getting confident and little kids see that. We are at the stage that we believe we can win away. We won at Estadio Azteca in the last World Cup [qualifying]. That was a positive thing for the players that were not there before, the dream knowing that if you want to go to a World Cup, you have to win away to get those three points.”
A victory at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif. could be a giant boost for fourth-place Honduras (1-1-0, 3 points) and an absolute disaster for the last-place U.S. (0-2-0, 0) in the CONCACAF hexagonal.
U.S.-Honduras encounters have always been tightly played contests in qualifying, including in the U.S. In 2009, the Americans managed to eke out a 2-1 win at Soldier Field in Chicago as they overcame an early deficit to win on Carlos Bocanegra’s 68th-minute goal. In 2013, it was a 1-0 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah as Jozy Altidore tallied in the 73rd minute (it was the third successive qualifier and fourth consecutive game Altidore celebrated a goal).
“It’s very difficult. It’s not easy,” Espinoza said of defeating the U.S. on its soil. “The U.S., we know them very well. They are one of the powerhouses in CONCACAF. They have a lot of experienced players and have done very well in World Cups.”
The Sporting Kansas City veteran midfielder felt that U.S. Soccer did a smart thing by scheduling games at smaller venues. Crowds of more than 50,000 packed the stadiums, many Honduran supporters, for those games in the nation’s capital and the Windy City.
“Playing in the big venues in the U.S. does not help them,” he said. “There’s a lot of Honduran people here in the U.S. and they will pack the stadium. In 2010 qualifying at Soldier Field there were a lot more Hondurans than U.S. men and women. It became very difficult [for the U.S.]. It felt like a home game for Honduras. Now we’re moving into San Jose, a small venue. It can only help the home team.”
Given their recent success, the Hondurans are in the middle of their golden age of soccer. They are gunning for their third straight World Cup after participating at South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. Prior to that, they had only one World Cup — 1982 in Spain — under their collective belts. They also have performed at the last three Summer Olympic games, reaching the quarterfinals in 2012 and losing in the bronze-medal match last summer.
“That’s the goal, to go to a third World Cup,” Espinoza said. “Personally, the dream was to go to one. Two has been an amazing experience. I’ve been chasing my dream. A third one as a country would be amazing. Being a small country where soccer is the biggest sport, the money and the infrastructure is not there. It would be a huge accomplishment for the national team. If there was a lot more money it could become even bigger. Just to know from what we have, going to a third World Cup would be amazing feeling for us, a boost of confidence.”
Espinoza doesn’t know how many more opportunities he will have to play in a World Cup. He is 30-years-old and while that is not considered old for a player, he would be 34 when the 2022 event in Qatar rolls around.
“I always had self-motivation. Right now, I don’t think about that,” he said. “I live in the moment in my soccer life. Yeah, I want to be in the World Cup again. It gets difficult more and more as a lot of young players are doing very well at my position. So, for sure I want to make the most of it. I think it’s now or never. I definitely look at it that it might be my last qualifying and I’m ok with that. I’ve been to a few and it’s been a great experience. I’m very happy with what I’ve done now. Hopefully, I can do good in this one and that would be pretty much on the icing on the cake.”