Wizards sign Indian forward Chhetri

Sunil Chhetri, Kansas City Wizards

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The Kansas City Wizards just became the most supported club in Major League
Soccer. Maybe even the world.

Kansas City announced it had agreed in principle to terms with 25-year-old
Indian national team standout Sunil Chhetri late Thursday night at Cerner
headquarters. Per league and team policy, details of the deal were not

Chhetri is the first Indian player to play in MLS and only the second to play
professionally outside of the country. The striker will not be able to play for
the Wizards until he can obtain a P-1 visa and the Indian federation sends his
international transfer certificate. He is the team’s seventh international
signing this offseason.

The Indian media has been reporting the deal for almost a week, and a number of
journalists took part in the 10:30 p.m. video conference call Wednesday night –
Thursday morning in India – from the opposite side of the globe at Cerner
offices in Manyata, India.

The Wizards are getting a player who has scored 16 goals in 35 caps for his
national team and is widely regarded as India’s most talented player. Chhetri,
who will wear No. 19, is finally getting an opportunity to test himself
outside of India after a move to Queens Park Rangers in England’s second
division collapsed because of work-permit issues, while other trials didn’t result
in a contract.

“I am very happy and optimistic,” Chhetri said. “I'm looking forward to getting
to know my teammates and the city of Kansas City, and I am going to come to
training and give my best every day.”

Chhetri trained with Kansas City in Arizona for a week earlier this postseason
and was released by his I-League team, Dempo SC, last week. Manager Peter
Vermes said the 2009 Indian player of the year fit in with the team almost
immediately, developing a especially strong partnership with Josh Wolff
while playing underneath the team’s forwards.

Although he has had limited time to train with the team, Vermes tipped the
5-foot-7 playmaker for early success after watching him fit in so seamlessly
during the preseason.

“He already has soccer inside of him,” Vermes said. “It’s not a thing
where he is thinking about the game. It’s already inside himself. That type of
player is easily put into a team and is right away useable.”

Off the field, Chhetri is sure to be a very valuable asset as well. Judging by
the attention Chhetri’s move to Major League Soccer generated in India, Kansas
City finds itself uniquely positioned to market its brand – and by proxy Cerner
– in the second-most populous country in the world. That's something that hasn't
escaped the Wizards ownership group or Vermes.

“He’s an extremely talented soccer player,” Vermes said. “It just so happens
that he comes from a great country in India where there are about a billion
people. Hopefully, those people become fans of the Kansas City Wizards in the
future because of the success he’ll bring to our team.”

But until further notice, the focus is on the field. Chhetri arrived in Kansas
City on Tuesday and has been training with the Wizards this week. He will miss
the season opener against D.C. United while the team completes his paperwork.

With more than 1 billion of his countrymen waiting to cheer him on, Chhetri
will become the eighth player from Asia to play in MLS. It’s a challenge, and a
privilege, for which he has been preparing for a long time.

“I just want to put my best foot forward, do my best for the club and improve,”
Chhetri said.

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