Before San Jose Earthquakes winger Cristian Espinoza became an integral part of Matias Almeyda’s offensive attack, the skilled Argentinian gained valuable experience in Europe.
Espinoza was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and grew up in the city of Alejandro Korn. He began playing soccer at the age of six, and by age nine he was with Huracan, where he would go on to rise through the academy ranks.
In 2016, when he was 20, Espinoza was sold from Huracan to Villarreal, in Spain. Villarreal then loaned him to Deportivo Alavés. The chance to play in Europe allowed Espinoza to fulfill a life-long dream.
“Playing in Europe was incredible,” Espinoza said. “It all happened very fast. I went to Spain when I was 20 years old. Being able to play in Europe was the dream of my life.”
While joining Deportivo Alavés was Espinoza’s introduction to the European soccer experience, he began to excel when an opportunity arose at Real Valladolid in 2017.
“I couldn’t enjoy the first six months (at Deportivo Alavés) so much because I played very few games. But (in 2017) I got to play more while being in Valladolid, and I really enjoyed it.”
In Spain, Espinoza faced superb competition at a young age, and as a result made memories that will last a lifetime.
“Playing in Spain, I was lucky to face the best players in the world. In the case of my game against Barcelona, I was able to play half an hour and win the game, 2-1, away at Barcelona’s pitch.”
Espinoza called the victory over Barcelona “one of the most beautiful things” he experienced in Europe.
The now 24-year-old also recalls the atmosphere when his side played Atletico Madrid at Vicente Calderón, an experience that sticks with him even though he was inactive. The match took place the week of Espinoza’s arrival at Valladolid, but he still relished the opportunity to experience the unique atmosphere.
“I did not play, nor was I called to the bench because I had just arrived three days earlier, but they had me travel. I got to feel the atmosphere, share the locker room with my teammates. The adrenaline that is always experienced before a game, especially of that magnitude. Those were very nice experiences that will remain forever in my memory.”
Having played in Argentina, Spain and now the United States, Espinoza has a unique perspective on the culture of soccer throughout the world. While the game remains the same, some customs and traditions differ.
“The soccer culture is different around the world,” Espinoza explained. “Obviously the first few times (at Alavés) was a bit strange, because in Spain, players have a habit of not concentrating for a home game as we do in Argentina.”
Espinoza believes the practice of focusing to prepare for a game is a staple in Argentina. In Spain, however, traditions were not equal.
“For me at that time, it was perhaps the strangest thing because I was used to Argentina, which makes you fully concentrate sometimes two days before the game.”
Still, Espinoza has fond memories of his brief time at Alavés, including experiencing the atmosphere created by the fans.
“I think they are some of the best fans of Spanish football. I think that, along with Atletico Madrid’s fans, they are some of the best because they sing the whole game. They encourage the team at all times, and the truth is that they live football very differently than the rest of the teams.”