Before Matt Besler traveled to the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, he packed a suitcase for New York City. The Red Bulls had already laid out their plans to draft Besler and make him a fixture on their back line.
It never happened. Instead, Sporting Kansas City — the hometown team for the Overland Park native — selected Besler three picks earlier, thus beginning a harmonious relationship that has included an MLS championship and an MLS defender of the year award.
More than five years later, that relationship could be nearing its final days.
Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman acknowledged Thursday that the club has received “enormous interest” from overseas teams trying to acquire Besler, as well as his Sporting KC teammate Graham Zusi. The offers for Besler — which have come from “different leagues all over the world,” Heineman said — spiked after his highly-rated performance for the United States in the World Cup.
Asked about the chances Besler could parlay that into an overseas transfer, Heineman replied, “I’d say there’s a strong possibility that could happen based on the interest that’s out there.”
If it were to happen, it would happen “probably within the next 10 days,” according to Besler’s agent, Eddie Rock. Besler deferred questions about the situation to his agent.
Rock said Besler is weighing three options regarding his future — sign an extension with Sporting Kansas City, transfer to a club in the English Premier League or transfer to a club in Bundesliga, recognized as the top league in Germany. He has received offers from teams in both foreign leagues, which begin their 2014-15 seasons next month.
They would figure to offer Besler significant raises from his current guaranteed compensation of $200,000 with Sporting KC — which makes him only the 32nd-highest paid defender in the MLS, according to figures released earlier this year by the MLS Players Union.
Besler is set to become a free agent after making $220,000 next season, Rock said. The average salary for an English Premier League player exceeds $2 million.
“If Matt re-signs with the league now, his intentions would be to be a one-club player for the rest of his career. His goal would be to finish atop Sporting and the Wizards in all-time appearances and longest captaincy. He would try to build a dynasty there,” Rock said.
“The biggest factor with a potential move is do they provide a bigger ceiling for Matt’s development as a player? Would playing in the EPL or in the Bundesliga bring him to an even higher level as a player simply because you’re playing against the top players in the world on a daily and weekly basis?”
If Besler agrees to a deal with a foreign club, that team would be required to pay Sporting KC and the MLS an agreeable transfer fee — and likely a significant one. Besler, 27, has spent six seasons with the Wizards and Sporting KC franchise and is in his first year as the team’s captain.
Heineman said he has already received terms sheets with official transfer fee offers from European clubs, but Sporting KC plans to first make its pitch to keep Besler in Kansas City for the long-term.
“We’ll try to do everything we can to retain our guys, particularly guys like (Besler and Zusi) that are so core to our team,” Heineman said. “But sometimes guys are going to have aspirations to do different things. If that’s the case, we try to do something that’s mutually beneficial to both the player and the club.”
Heineman declined to discuss the exact fee it would take to pry Besler away from Kansas City. When Sporting KC agreed to transfer Uri Rosell last month to Clube de Portugal, the transfer fee was more than $1.5 million, a source told The Star, and the fee for Besler would need to be significantly larger.
Sporting KC retained two-thirds of the transfer fee, with one-third going to the MLS. Heineman said the money from Rosell’s transfer would be used to try to retain Besler and Zusi.
Under the league rules, Sporting KC has the option to make Besler or Zusi a designated player, which would allow the players to earn a significant salary yet have them count only $387,500 toward the salary cap. Each team is allowed two designated players but can buy a third slot. Claudio Bieler is the team’s only designated player.
Sporting KC plans to pursue that option, though it still won’t be able to match overseas contracts. LA Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez is the highest-paid defender in the MLS and qualifies as a designated player. He will earn $1.25 million in guaranteed compensation this season.
“As I’ve said before, out intention is not to be a selling club, but I think we’ve also demonstrated to our players that we understand they’re ambitious,” Sporting KC technical director and manager Peter Vermes said. “And with that ambition sometimes comes the desire to go test your skills somewhere else.
“I think this league provides these guys with the environment they need. Unfortunately the difference sometimes is money. That’s rampant in all sports.”
While money is always a driving factor in negotiations, Rock said Besler plans to consider several non-monetary factors, as well. Besler and his wife, Amanda, are both from the Kansas City area. Sporting KC is defending an MLS championship and is in a quality position to continue to strengthen its team.
A leap overseas would likely require a three- or four-year deal. Rock said Besler has been discussing that possibility over the past year — since he jumped into the national team’s starting lineup during World Cup qualifying — but the offers became more appealing after his performance against Portugal in group play of the World Cup.
“I think Matt is going to have talks with multiple people over the course of the next couple of days. He will decide what’s best for him and his wife,” Rock said. “With Sporting Kansas City in particular, Matt fully realizes he’s playing at the top club in the U.S. There are very few places Matt could go where you’re going to see the same type of training facilities, stadiums and support. And he’s the captain of that team. That means something.”
On the other hand, a World Cup appearance has demonstrated that Besler is raising his profile. He spent Thursday making national media stops at ESPN and has appearances booked with “Good Morning America” and “Morning Joe,” among others, on Friday.
He will not play in Sporting KC’s home match Sunday against Chicago but will likely be in attendance to be recognized by his home fans prior to the game.
Might it be his last appearance at Sporting Park?
“We’ve got sort of the Matt Besler story. Kansas City is a great place for him to play and obviously his hometown,” Heineman said. “I think we’re willing to work with him to make him a very attractive offer to stay. I feel like we’re in a good position. We’ll let the chips fall where they may.”