Darwin Espinal calls for the ball during a Tampa Bay Rowdies scrimmage on Thursday.

Darwin Espinal poised to make big impact for Rowdies

Promising young striker looking forward to first professional season

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – If Darwin Espinal is supposed to act like a hot-shot rookie, that’s news to him.

In fact, the Florida-raised forward knows it’s not about him.

Signed by the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League last December, the 20-year-old forward knows that it will take a group effort to turn around the team’s recent misfortunes.

“I think that (compared to) last season, it’s going to change completely. I think the attitude of the guys is different,” Espinal said of his new squad currently practising at the University of South Florida. “I don’t know how it was last year, but from what I hear they were not too positive. Coach (Thomas Rongen) is really making us a unit, a team, you know? That’s a key to winning.”

Espinal has already done his fair share of winning, capturing a Florida State Cup Championship for his U17 club team Plantation FC in 2013, and a Region 17 Championship Title in 2014 with the Darton State College Cavaliers.

It was at Darton State that Espinal grew under the tutelage of coach Bart Sasnett.

“Leadership I thought was a big one,” Espinal said in regards to what Sasnett taught him. “Just working hard…I learned a lot from him as a person and as a player.”

After a sophomore season with the Cavaliers that saw him rack up 29 goals and 19 assists to earn 1st Team Junior College All-American honours for the second straight year, Espinal decided to make the leap to the pros.

Rongen, who was hired last December, had nothing but praise for the Honduran-born Espinal.

“The American player is a little bit different than the international player because our environment is just slightly different,” Rongen said, having previously worked with notable United States soccer players Clint Dempsey, Ricardo Clark, and Freddy Adu. “I got a better understanding of what makes an American player tick. Darwin is a Honduran at heart and he’s more humble than most other guys.”

Espinal has appeared in four friendlies with the Rowdies and with the start of the regular season less than a month away, he is still having to deal with freshman responsibilities.

“Get the balls, pick up the cones, I go first whenever we do something, like appearances. I actually had to do karaoke once. It was a crazy night, said Espinal.

“It was ‘Push It’ (by Salt-N-Pepa). But I didn’t sing at all! That’s the thing. It was me and Stef (Antonijevic), our centre back, he was just dancing. There’s a video on Twitter. I’m just there not doing anything, it was funny.”

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