High School Boys Soccer

Tompkins’ Espinoza plays beyond his years

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 3/14/20

Growing up in Villahermosa, the capital of the Mexican state of Tabasco, Danny Espinoza knew little else other than soccer.

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High School Boys Soccer

Tompkins’ Espinoza plays beyond his years

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Growing up in Villahermosa, the capital of the Mexican state of Tabasco, Danny Espinoza knew little else other than soccer.

He played for the Chivas Academy as a 3-year-old. He played soccer every day, all day. Even into the night.

“Once you’re done with homework, you go back outside to play some more,” Espinoza said. “You’re either doing homework, watching soccer or playing soccer. It’s life.”

Espinoza followed the Chivas senior team. He idolized soccer icons Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But most of the time, he was honing his skills playing a style of soccer where the ballhandling was significantly advanced, even for the youth, and the conditioning was tip top.

“Kids never stopped running,” Espinoza said. “It’s always soccer, soccer, soccer. And the conditions over there … the summer here (in Katy) would be like the winter over there. And no matter how hot it was, you would run, run, run. That’s a big part of my game. Never stop running.”

So, Espinoza’s success on the pitch these days, as a playmaking senior midfielder for regional power Tompkins, is no surprise. In 16 games so far for the 17-3-1 Falcons, Espinoza has 23 goals and 16 assists for a total of 62 points.

Falcons coach Tom Jones remembers watching Espinoza for the first time as an eighth grader at Seven Lakes Junior High.

“We knew we had something really special in him,” Jones recalled. “For being in eighth grade, he was just so composed with the ball. He was small, but physical. He did things that were just beyond his years.”

Espinoza and his family moved to the Katy area when he was in the third grade. In sixth grade, the coach for his club team, Albion, which was associated with Reading, a second division club in England, recommended Espinoza for a trial with Reading and sent him to some U.S. camps attended by coaches from the U.S. national team.

“It really hit me, like, wow,” said Espinoza, who was more advanced as a dribbler, passer and student of the game than his peers in middle school. “I can really do something with this sport. I realized it’s what I wanted to do. Once I got to high school, I wouldn’t do any other sport. Soccer was the sport I wanted to do.”

Espinoza suffered a torn ACL during the first game of his sophomore season at Tompkins. He missed that season and was not cleared to return to action until December 2018. He did not play his first game until midway through the district season of his junior year, and used 2019 to regain his rhythm and confidence.

Last summer, however, marked another epiphany.

“That summer helped me a lot,” said Espinoza, who now patterns his game after Neymar. “I was in Albion and they put me with the Royals for USL League 2 (a development soccer league sponsored by United States Soccer Leagues). That was big, as far as playing with guys who played with the national team, another player who played 17 years in the MLS … that experience just pushed me.”

Now Espinoza feels faster and stronger in his recovery from his knee injury, and smarter after playing with the Royals.

“Playing with bigger and stronger players, I still realized you can outsmart them with movement and even when you don’t have the ball,” Espinoza said.

Espinoza had gained such vast experience and exposure that he signed in November to play college soccer at Memphis, where he will join former Falcons teammate Jovan Prado, despite missing almost two full seasons of high school competition and his senior campaign still pending.

“He came back so much stronger,” Jones said. “He was one of those guys that he wasn’t going to let anything stop him. He’s just going to work and work and work. Everybody we play puts two guys on him, and he’s still getting the stats he’s getting.”

Jones attributes Espinoza’s success to his work rate.

“He’s like the Energizer Bunny, always going, always working,” Jones said. “And he sees the field so well that nobody will see him make runs and he’ll get behind people. He’s also a great finisher.”

Espinoza credits his success to his maturity as a player this season, eager and willing to impact the game beyond scoring.

“The big thing for me is influencing the game in other ways,” Espinoza said. “Move the game along with one or two touches, be quick, getting teammates involved and sharing the ball.”

Tompkins has made the regional semifinals in three of the last four seasons. Espinoza and Jones feel this is the team to get to the regional final and, maybe, even to the state tournament in Georgetown.

“This team, overall, has a better advantage than last year’s because we can possess the ball better,” Jones said. “We can move the ball around. It’s a mental game with these guys. If they can stay mentally focused, I believe we can get over the hump.”

Espinoza has been encouraged by how the Falcons handle adversity.

“This team is super talented,” Espinoza said. “We’ve had struggles this season, but the thing about this team is every time we’ve had a struggle, we’ve gotten better. This team is starting to understand how good we can be. We keep improving. Last year, we set the tone by getting to the (regional) semifinals. We want to get back and go even beyond. Get further than we’ve ever gotten.”

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