One way or another, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi have been tethered together since each was drafted in 2009. And they will be for the foreseeable future.
As paupers with the then-Wizards, the Sporting KC stars became roommates at Besler’s parents’ house in Overland Park, where Zusi flopped in the basement. Paralleling the rebranding of the franchise and its hatching into prosperity, they got all grown-up and shared apartments of their own.
Now, four days before the MLS Cup game against Real Salt Lake on Saturday at Sporting Park, they were named to the league’s Best XI team for the second straight season.
To say nothing of their prospects of playing together for Team USA in next year’s World Cup.
But what really binds them is "family": their dogs, Gipper and Baci, and how they came to get them.
One day during their rookie season, Besler and Zusi set out to get a puppy – one puppy – at Wayside Waifs, the no-kill pet adoption center in south Kansas City that says on its website that it places more than "5,400 animals each year in loving forever homes."
At the shelter, they spotted a mixed lab. Or, rather, a litter of mixed labs. They chose one and started to walk out.
"Then we both kind of looked at each other," Besler recently recalled. "And we agreed right there: What happens if one of us gets traded or if one of us leaves? Who’s dog is this? And we felt bad for the dog.
"So about 10 minutes later, we were walking out of there with two dogs."
Besler is a Notre Dame graduate. Hence "Gipper," he said, "referencing the speech by Knute Rockne."
Baci is Italian for kisses, which Zusi apparently thought of because he picked out the dog after "ran up to him and started licking him in the face," Besler said.
And connecting them all.