In a nondescript white T-shirt, Roger Espinoza took his seat inside Sporting Park on a hot Monday evening and surveyed the Honduras national team match from a new perspective.
As a fan.
After rejecting his CONCACAF Gold Cup invite last month in favor of staying with Sporting Kansas City, Espinoza was relegated to a spectator role while Honduras faced Haiti in a Group A finale.
And that made the conclusion all the more difficult.
Haiti handed Honduras a 1-0 defeat at Sporting Park, eliminating Honduras from the tournament. A summer after appearing in the World Cup, Honduras failed to reach the knockout stage of the Gold Cup for the first time since 2003.
“It’s really tough. Every time your team is playing — whether it’s your professional team or national team — you want to play because you want to help the people you grew up playing with,” Espinoza said. “Ever since I’ve known the national team, I don’t remember a group-stage (exit). It’s a sad moment."
The match served as the opener of a double-header at Sporting Park on Monday. A game between the United States and Panama ended after press time. Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi opened the U.S. match on the bench.
Espinoza sat one seat from the Honduras bench during its match — a prime view to see Haiti forward Duckens Nazon supply the lone goal of the match.
Espinoza was offered the chance to play in the Gold Cup and represent his home country, but he instead elected to focus on improving his form with Sporting KC.
“I think I did the right thing. I still think that,” Espinoza said. “I have no regrets on that part.”
Espinoza said he has battled mental fatigue and physical ailments since playing in the World Cup last summer, which has prevented him from providing his typical production.
Espinoza showed well during a 1-0 road victory for Sporting against Western Conference leader Vancouver on Sunday night — a match he called “significant” a day later.
“My confidence skyrocketed (Sunday) night,” he said. “Over the past year, especially after the World Cup, it’s been really tough physically and mentally. I think the past three or four games, I’m becoming who I was again.”
He wasn’t the only Sporting KC player in the crowd with a rooting interest Monday.
Soni Mustivar, who holds dual citizenship in Haiti and France, was selected for Haiti’s 23-player roster for the Gold Cup, but he abruptly retired from international soccer after the call-up, keeping him in Kansas City. Mustivar also attended Monday's match.
While a pair of current Sporting KC players watched from the stands, the match featured three of Sporting’s former players on the field. Midfielder Jorge Claros started for Honduras, and Mechack Jerome and James Marcelin started for Haiti.
Claros joined Sporting KC last summer, but he was released during training camp, with coach Peter Vermes citing fitness issues as the cause. Marcelin was also released in training camp before playing in a match. Jerome appeared in 12 matches with Sporting KC over the 2013 and ’14 seasons.