Matt Besler, Graham Zusi agree to designated player contracts with Sporting KC

07/19/2014 4:03 PM

07/19/2014 10:29 PM

Matt Besler removed a microphone from his jersey, pushed through a double set of glass doors and sprinted down a hallway until he reached the Sporting Kansas City locker room.

A minute earlier, he had stood alongside teammate and good friend Graham Zusi on the Sporting Park field and revealed that the two players would be staying in Kansas City.

A hallway attendant yelled out to Besler and asked why he was in such a hurry more than an hour before Sporting Kansas City defeated the LA Galaxy 2-1 on Saturday.

“Time to get back to work,” he said, without slowing down.

In six words — and one signature — Besler shoved aside the post-World Cup frenzy Saturday.

He’s staying in his hometown. Zusi is staying, too.

Besler and Zusi agreed to designated player contracts Saturday with Sporting KC, the club announced. The extensions will be guaranteed and will run through the 2018 season, Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman said. Other terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Besler and Zusi drew interest from overseas clubs after representing the United States men’s national team last month at the World Cup. But they simultaneously spurned those opportunities to stay with Sporting KC.

“I’m overwhelmed with excitement about the decision I made,” said Besler, who was chosen team captain last offseason. “As soon as I shook hands with Robb and (coach) Peter (Vermes) and the owners, I knew right away that it was the right decision. It felt right. I had chills.”

Besler and Zusi share a strikingly similar career path that started in 2009, when the club selected them in the MLS SuperDraft. They roomed together for the following three years and helped build Sporting Kansas City into a championship team.

It was only fitting they also shared in the decision-making process to stay, Zusi said. The night before they came to the conclusion to sign extensions, Besler and Zusi talked on the phone.

“Graham asked what I was thinking. I asked Graham what he was thinking,” Besler said. “We said, ‘Let’s do this together. Let’s keep building this thing together.’ ”

The deals keep the players tied together with designated player contracts.

Under the league rules, a team can have up to three designated players on a roster as long as it purchases the third one from the league for $150,000. Claudio Bieler is already signed to a designated player contract. The rule allows teams to pay its designated players a significant salary, yet have them count only $387,500 toward the salary cap.

“These guys are Sporting Kansas City,” Heineman said. “We always said how important it is to retain the core of the group. It doesn’t get any more core than these guys.

“We’re doing significant, long-term guarantees with both of these guys, which is not necessarily something that generally happens in Major League Soccer very often. But that was important for us and important for them as well.”

Besler and Zusi have each seen their stock rise within the MLS — and outside of it — since joining the U.S. men’s national team. They were voted Wednesday to their third MLS All-Star Game.

“It was an easy decision for me,” Zusi said before Saturday’s match against the LA Galaxy. “The vision and direction of this club is something I want to be a part of for a long time.”

Zusi was chosen the MLS Breakout player of the year in 2011, which generated his debut with the national team the following January. He quickly became a fixture for coach Jurgen Klinsmann and started three matches in the World Cup. Zusi assisted on two goals in group play.

The overseas interest in Besler spiked after his performance against Portugal and its top talent, striker Cristiano Ronaldo, his agent said. English soccer clubs Fulham and Sunderland were two of the teams interested in Besler, he said.

But neither club could sway him from his hometown club, which stretched its lead atop the Eastern Conference to four points with the win Saturday against the Galaxy.

“Graham and Matt have both proven over the past almost six seasons that they are core players within this club,” Vermes said. “They have had a tremendous impact on creating a winning culture and these agreements keep us on the path of attaining our goals and expectations.”

Besler said a variety of factors played into his decision. He was intrigued by the team’s vision and the possibility of building a franchise that competes for championships every year.

There were other factors, too. Ownership. Facilities. A consistent coaching staff. All of them made leaving home less appealing after he spent two months away with the national team.

After concluding his press conference Saturday, Besler leaned forward into his microphone and smiled.

“S-K-C for life!” he shouted.

Well, at least for four more years.

To reach Sam McDowell, send email to smcdowell@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/SamMcDowell11.

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