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Jhon Espinoza, who once killed the dreams of American soccer fans, now hopes to be a star in the U.S.

“I didn’t even consider any interest from any other clubs after learning about Chicago. I just wanted to come to Chicago.”

Jhon Espinoza at Fire training this week in Bridgeview
Chicago Fire FC

In June 2019, riding high off a win over France, the United States U-20 Men’s National Team was one win away from the semi-finals of the U-20 FIFA World Cup. Near the end of the first half of a quarterfinal match against Ecuador, the two teams were tied at one goal apiece, when a shot deflected off an Ecuador player who appeared to be in an offside position, and ended up in the back of the net. It was now 2-1 Ecuador.

The Americans protested, but a VAR check showed the goal scorer was onside. Ecuador held on the the second half, and crushed the Americans’ dreams of making the tournament semi-final.

The guy who scored that goal? He now plays in the United States. It was Jhon Espinoza, the Chicago Fire’s new, 21-year-old right back. Espinoza flashed a big smile when we asked him about that match through Fire translator Elizabeth Sanchez.

“What I remember about that game was that it was very complicated, very hard,” Espinoza said. “It was a tough game because the United States was matching us with their same physical conditions. I think it was a little more complicated because they had (Timothy) Weah. I think the thing I remember the most and that makes me happiest is the goal that got us through to the semifinal.”

Espinoza said he heard the Fire were interested in signing him in October, and it was an easy decision to come play in Chicago.

“I learned that there may be some possible interest, and I decided to come here and be part of this because I wanted to experience this football before maybe going to Europe,” Espinoza said. “I wanted to experience it because it’s a lot faster, it’s very intense, and I wanted to be part of it, and really I didn’t even consider any interest from any other clubs after learning about Chicago. I just wanted to come to Chicago.”

Espinoza figures to play a big role for the Fire this season. In 2020, Boris Sekulic logged nearly all the minutes at right back. Sekulic will now have to compete with not only Espinoza, but with a healthy Johan Kappelhof, who can play on the right as well.

Fire head coach Raphael Wicky said he believes competition for the spot will drive all his players to improve, and Espinoza is ready to try to win the job.

“I think my qualities are that I’m a fast player and I like to attack a lot, especially down the sidelines with a lot of possibility of coming in on the diagonal toward the goal,” he said. “Little by little I am getting used to learning about what the team wants, what the head coach’s tactics are, so little by little as I get used to it I’ll be able to complement my teammates more while we’re in there.”

NOTES: The Fire announced today that Miguel Navarro has officially received a U.S. green card, which frees up an international slot on the Fire’s roster. Navarro will fly straight to Orlando, and will begin training with the team next week after his Covid-19 quarantine is over.