Sporting Kansas City has signed defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi to long-term Designated Player contracts, the team announced Saturday.
"Getting these deals completed is extremely beneficial for the organization and the two players," said Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes in a news release. "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 and 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.
"This is a dream come to true to know that I'll be playing my whole career in Kansas City," Besler said in a news release. "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.
"This is where I have always wanted to be," Zusi said in a press release. "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 in MLS 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).
Per club policy, additional terms of the agreements will not be disclosed.
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