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Honduran-American Plays for Native Country at World Cup

  • Brent Latham

Kansas City Wizards star Roger Espinoza will play for his native Honduras in the World Cup.

Kansas City Wizards star Roger Espinoza will play for his native Honduras in the World Cup.

But Kansas City Wizards star still cheers for US team

The U.S. national soccer team will take the field at this month's World Cup with a talented group of 23 players and high expectations.

But no matter how the team performs, another American soccer story will be written in South Africa, where a small group of Americans will represent other countries on soccer's biggest stage.

Among them is Roger Espinoza, an American citizen born in Honduras. He was selected to play for that country's national soccer team, in the Hondurans' first return to the World Cup in 28 years.

Espinoza grew up in Puerto Cortes on Honduras' Atlantic coast, before moving to the United States with his parents. The 23 year old spent his teen years in the Denver, Colorado area, where he attended high school. He went to Ohio State University on a soccer scholarship before deciding to pursue a professional soccer career.

In the first round of the 2008 Major League Soccer draft, Espinoza was selected by the Kansas City Wizards, and has become a regular performer for the MLS team. Kansas City Wizard Roger Espinoza in a game against the DC United soccer team.

Kansas City Wizard Roger Espinoza in a game against the DC United soccer team.

Espinoza's talent draws attention

The midfielder's strong play in the U.S. professional league caught the attention of the Honduran national team about two years ago. Espinoza made his first appearance for the Catrachos, the Honduran team, early last year. He scored a goal while representing the nation of his birth in the Central American championships.

It was a proud moment for Espinoza's family. Even though growing up in the United States Americanized him, he says his family retains its Honduran heritage.

"Since I was born there, I have the culture. I also have the culture of the United States. But I felt I needed to play for Honduras," he explains. "That was the place I belonged to. Playing there is an honor for me. The people in Honduras, just the culture and everything, it makes me happy to play for them."

Espinoza obtained dual nationality when he became an American citizen in 2008. Along with citizenship, he gained a U.S. passport, making the midfielder eligible to play for the American national team in addition to Honduras.

Like other dual-national soccer players, Espinoza faced a choice between his two countries on the field. FIFA, international soccer's governing body, allows a player to represent only one nation at the senior level. Kansas City Wizards player Roger Espinoza is one of a small group of Americans who will represent other countries in the World Cup.

Kansas City Wizards player Roger Espinoza is one of a small group of Americans who will represent other countries in the World Cup.

"I had to choose one or the other. I have been living here for 10 years. I know everything about the culture in America, but I feel like I belong to Honduras. That's where I was born. That's where I grew up," he says. "And I would say I am better in Spanish language than I am in English. My family does not speak English, so my culture is more Honduran, you know, than it is American."

The Honduran national team's quick action in securing the services of the young player also helped.

Espinoza says there was little interest in him from the American team, which has become the strongest in the region in recent years. So, when the Hondurans came calling, he did not hesitate. And he went on to score a goal against the United States in a January practice match, a performance which helped him earn a spot on the country's World Cup squad.

Still rooting for the USA

His Honduran team affiliation will not stop Espinoza from supporting his other national team at the World Cup.

"I definitely want them to win," he says. "Not just the United States, but I have friends. A lot of guys I play with and I've known my whole life play for the U.S. so, of course, I want them to win. Even [before I was] playing professionally, I wanted the U.S. to win."

After his World Cup experience, Espinoza returns to Kansas City to continue his career in the U.S. league.

But he will have fulfilled the dream of every soccer player: to take the field at the World Cup.

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