Sporting Kansas City has signed defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi to long-term Designated Player contracts, the team announced on Saturday. Per club policy, additional terms of the agreements will not be disclosed.
"Getting these deals completed is extremely beneficial for the organization and the two players," said Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes. "Graham (Zusi) and Matt (Besler) have both proven over the past almost six seasons that they are core players within this club. 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. I want to thank the ownership group for their continued vision and commitment to securing both players for the long term."
An Overland Park native, Besler became the first player from the state of Kansas to play in a FIFA World Cup when he started all four matches for the United States in Brazil this summer. The 27-year-old centerback debuted for the U.S. in January 2013 and has 21 career international appearances, including all three knockout round games en route to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title.
Besler has twice collected MLS Best XI (2012, 2013) honors and is a three-time MLS All-Star (2011, 2013, 2014). He was awarded MLS Defender of the Year in 2012 before being named a finalist again in 2013; he has collected Sporting Kansas City's Defensive Player of the Year each of the past three seasons.
He was named captain of the reigning MLS Cup champions prior to the 2014 season and was recognized as the Kansas City Sports Commission Sportsman of the Year in April. Besler has made 147 MLS appearances (including postseason) with two goals and seven assists since being drafted by Kansas City in the first round of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft out of Notre Dame.
- Besler ranks ninth in all-time regular season games played (132) and minutes played (11,961) in club history.
- Besler leads MLS in passing accuracy (86.7%) among defenders with at least 450 passes attempted in 2014.
- Since 2011, Besler has completed the second most successful passes (4,218) by a defender in MLS competition.
- Since 2011, Besler has the best accuracy from open crosses (48.5%) among all players who have attempted at least 20 crosses/corners in the regular season.
- Since 2011, Besler has contributed to the second most shutouts (39) amongst all defenders in MLS competition.
- Besler at 2014 FIFA World Cup: 156/186 passes completed, 96 sprints, 26 recovered balls, 12 clearances, eight tackles, five fouls suffered, three blocks and one foul committed while covering 37.9 kilometers in 346 minutes played.
"This is a dream come to true to know that I'll be playing my whole career in Kansas City," Besler said. "A lot of factors went into this decision, but the ownership and the great fans played a huge part. Now, there is a responsibility to go forward to keep pushing this team farther and farther."
Zusi is an MLS All-Star for a third straight year on the heels of a strong performance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He appeared in all four games for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and contributed assists in back-to-back group stage games against Ghana and Portugal. The 27-year-old has earned 27 career international appearances with three goals and six assists in a U.S. Men's National Team jersey.
Taken in the second round of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft as a two-time national champion at the University of Maryland, Zusi has recorded 18 goals and 40 assists in 144 MLS matches (including postseason) over six professional seasons with Sporting KC. He was named to the MLS Best XI each of the last two years and was an MLS MVP finalist in 2012 after leading the League with a career-high 15 assists in the regular season (third most in a single-season in club history).
Zusi has been voted Sporting Kansas City's Most Valuable Player each of the last two years. In 2013, he was named the team's Offensive Player of the Year, was nominated for Best MLS Player at the ESPYS and was the top rated midfielder in the MLS Castrol Index.
- Zusi is second on club's all-time corner kicks chart (445), seven shy of tying Preki for most in team history.
- Zusi is tied for third on the club's all-time career assists chart with 35. He has led the team in the category for each of the last three years.
- Zusi's 15 game-winning assists are third most in team history, one shy of Chris Klein for second. He has tied the single-season team record with five game-winning assists each of the last two years.
- Since 2011, Zusi has the third most assists (39) in MLS competition behind Brad Davis (48) and Mauro Rosales (42). Zusi is one of only three players with more than 15 goals and 35 assists in MLS competition since 2011 along with Brad Davis and Thierry Henry.
- Since 2011, Zusi leads all players in chances created (including assists) with 310 and chances created from set play with 167 in MLS competition. During that same span, Zusi leads all players in successful crosses/corners in MLS competition with 306.
- Zusi at 2014 FIFA World Cup: 150 sprints, 91/133 passes completed, 14 crosses, 11 corners, seven recovered balls, seven tackles, three fouls suffered, two assists, two fouls committed, two shots and one shot on goal while covering 33.7 kilometers in 259 minutes played.
"This is where I have always wanted to be," Zusi said. "I would like to thank Peter Vermes and the Sporting Club ownership for working with me toward this long-term contract and I look forward to continuing my career in the best stadium and in front of the best fans in MLS. I have always respected players who have played their entire career with one team and I look forward to a long career in Kansas City."
Major League Soccer's Designated Player Rule, implemented prior to the 2007 season, allows clubs to acquire up to three players whose salaries exceed their budget charges, with the club bearing financial responsibility for the amount of compensation above each player's budget charge.
With the addition of Besler and Zusi, Major League Soccer's 19 teams now feature 38 total Designated Players. Of those 38 players, nine are members of the United States Men's National Team: Besler (KC), Zusi (KC), Eddie Johnson (DC), Landon Donovan (LA), Omar Gonzalez (LA), Maurice Edu (PHI), Chris Wondolowski (SJ), Clint Dempsey (SEA) and Michael Bradley (TOR).
Sporting KC Designated Players
Graham Zusi (2014 - )
Matt Besler (2014 - )
Claudio Bieler (2013 - )
Omar Bravo (2011)
Claudio Lopez (2008)