Nigel Brooks

Espinoza returns, ready to start for Sporting at Houston

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Just in time for the postseason, Roger Espinoza is ready to return to the pitch for Sporting Kansas City.

The Honduran midfielder has not played since spraining his right ankle in stoppage time in Sporting's 1-1 draw at Columbus on Oct. 7. The club held him out for the last two regular-season matches, but Espinoza won't have to be eased back into the lineup when Sporting open their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Sunday at Houston (3:30 pm ET, NBC, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).

“He's good,” manager Peter Vermes said on Friday, during the team's weekly news conference. “He's start-ready.”

And if there is any lingering soreness, Espinoza said, it will go away soon after the opening whistle.

“You don't know until you play the game, you know? But I haven't played in a month, and I think I'm ready,” he told MLSsoccer.com after Friday's training session. “It's not like I've been off all year, either. This is the time when your adrenaline goes very high in this type of game. It's going to be a very, very good game, and I think I'm ready for it.”

And while Espinoza hasn't been playing since his injury, he hasn't been resting much, either.

“I don't know if I would call it 'time off,” he said. “I was here every day – seven hours, every day – trying to get better with the treatments and the trainers. It's been a very tough four weeks, but I want to be back for the playoffs.”

Espinoza's return keeps Sporting from being two down in the midfield, as Vermes confirmed Friday that Paulo Nagamura will miss Sunday's away leg with a left ankle sprain. However, Vermes said that Nagamura, who was hurt in the first half of Sporting's 2-1 win over Philadelphia on Oct. 24, could be ready in time for Wednesday's home leg.

“It is a definite target,” Vermes said. “If it hits, excellent. If it doesn't, and we advance, then he's got to get ready for the next phase. He knows that. He's doing everything he can. He's in here all day long trying to get better.”

Vermes praised his midfielders' recovery efforts, calling each “a consumate professional.”

“They know what's at stake and they're competitors,” he said. “This is what they've worked for all year long, and this is where they want to be.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.