Photo by John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports Images
By TATE STEINLAGE
Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes says Wigan Athletic midfielder Roger Espinoza is interested in a return to Major League Soccer and Sporting KC.
Espinoza has been linked to a return to the club for months now, as speculation grows that he will leave Wigan once his contract expires next summer.
“He (Espinoza) would love to come back,” Vermes said Wednesday at the team’s weekly press conference. “I think from his perspective, if he’s coming back to MLS, he would love to come here.”
Espinoza left for Wigan following the 2012 MLS season. In four years with Sporting KC, Espinoza started 93 games, scoring two goals and 11 assists, while helping the club capture the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title.
Vermes isn’t guaranteeing anything when it comes to Espinoza, only that the club wants him to come back.
“I’m here to tell you that there’s no done deal,” Vermes said. “I’ve talked to Roger since he left and we’re always talking about an opportunity for him if he ever comes back. We own his rights and we want him to come back.
“He hasn’t played there (Wigan) for a long time, and by ‘played there’ I mean consistently. You guys know Roger well enough that the last thing he wants to do is be sitting around not playing.”
However, since Sporting KC did not transfer Espinoza for a fee — his contract simply expired at the end of 2012 — the club will not pay for a transfer to bring him back.
That doesn’t rule out a return, Vermes insists.
“There are other things that happen with players,” Vermes said. “Sometimes players terminate their deals with their clubs. There are so many different variables. What I’m saying to you is that all of those are available, but there’s nothing confirmed.
“There would be no reason for me to try and hide this either because I don’t have to worry about discovery issues and all that stuff because he’s on my first Right of Refusal — I offered him a contract before he left and he did not decline it.”
Espinoza featured for Honduras at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, starting in all three group-stage matches for the CONCACAF side.
GRUENEBAUM STARTING GOALKEEPER FOR NOW
Vermes didn’t expect veteran goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum to play as much as he has so far this season, let alone become the team’s first option in goal.
The 31-year-old was brought over to Kansas City after eight seasons with the Columbus Crew to back up longtime club player Eric Kronberg. However, after Kronberg fractured a bone in his left hand in July — an injury that sidelined him for more than two months — Gruenebaum took hold of the starting role.
“He’s been through this and been through this quite a few times,” Vermes said Wednesday. “He’s played a lot of games and been number one. Those are experiences that he has that a guy only gets because he’s been there — and he’s been there. That part can give us steadiness at a time when we need it”
Kronberg returned to action on Sept. 23, helping shutout Real Esteli in CONCACAF Champions League play. But positioning issues in a 3-2 loss to New England a game later had people calling for Gruenebaum.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s not close enough time wise,” Vermes said. “We don’t have a lot of time left to try and get his (Kronberg) form back in-games. He did not have enough training to kind of get into a rhythm.
“I think that would’ve helped him with his confidence and a lot of things, but there just wasn’t enough time — it wasn’t anything other than time. I got to make sure I’m making a choice that’s based on who is going to continue to keep getting us results.
“That doesn’t mean it can’t change — it happens with players all the time in the field as well. But right now that’s the direction we’ll go. The good thing is that each week we continue to train and we play, and hopefully he gets more and more confident because we need him — we still have another Champions League game coming up and a lot of things we still have to do.”
Gruenebaum has started 10 games this season for Sporting KC, recording two shutouts and a 1.2 goals-against average.
VERMES, BESLER PREVIEW CHICAGO MATCHUP
Sporting KC and the Chicago Fire share one thing in common heading into their match Friday in Kansas City: neither have been that good of late.
In their last 12 matches combined, the two teams are 1-6-5. But while Sporting KC remain in the playoff hunt, the Fire have already seen their postseason dreams go up in flames.
“It’s a team that is knocked out of contention, but just like any other MLS team, they have a lot to play for,” Sporting KC defender and captain Matt Besler said Wednesday. “We expect them to fight like they always do.
“At this point in the season, though, it’s really about us. We’re focused on playing our best and taking care of the things that we need to take care of — not anybody else.”
According to Besler, it all starts by defending their home field — Sporting Park — where Sporting KC is just 5-4-6 on the year despite having what many believe is one of the best home-field advantages in the league.
“We need to get a result at home,” Besler said. “We haven’t been as good as we need to be at home, and we all know that. Everybody deserves better when we play at home. The fans deserve wins, the fans deserve goals. There’s no excuse why we shouldn’t have one of the best home records in the league, and we haven’t done that this year for whatever reason.
“We have three games left — two are at home, one is one the road — so we can start on Friday by getting a result and a win at home. It’s about time.”
The Fire haven’t won in six matches, but aren’t being blown out by anyone. In fact, that’s been the narrative all season, as Chicago recently set a new MLS record for ties with 18 on the year.
“If there’s one thing that their 18 ties say is that they are in every match,” Vermes said. “I’m sure they’re thinking if they could have turned say just half of those games (into wins), where they would be or the number of points they would’ve got.
“It says a lot about the team. It’s not as if they were getting blown away by a lot of teams. It’s, more importantly, they were in every game and those are dangerous teams. Those are teams that, when they find a way to turn those into three points as opposed to one, they become a much different team.
“I say it every week, I think our league is so close in so many ways and you have to be very careful. But we’re ready to play. I think we’ve been in good form as of late, and I feel very good about the way that we’re playing at the moment.”
- MLS All-Star defender Aurelien Collin may return to action Friday after suffering an ankle injury in September. “He’s questionable, but I’m feeling more positive today than I did yesterday that he has a chance of playing Friday,” Vermes said. “Each day will be another step towards seeing if that will be the case.”
- Forward Jacob Peterson will be in the 18 Friday against Chicago, according to Vermes. “Jake will be in the 18, I’m almost positive now,” Vermes said. “I didn’t think it was right to do it last week. I thought we would’ve been rushing him back and I probably would’ve felt compelled at some point to put him in the game, so it’s probably better that he wasn’t in the 18.”
- Midfielder Jorge Claros has indeed been suspended three games by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for “inappropriate comments,” but Vermes hasn’t been told what those comments were or any other details pertaining to the suspension. Sporting KC’s manager also hasn’t been informed if Friday’s match, which Claros will miss because of international duty, will count towards the suspension.
Do you see Espinoza returning to his former MLS club? Will Gruenebaum be in goal for the rest of the season? Who do you see taking three points Friday?
Share your thoughts below.