The last time Sporting Kansas City entered a season without Matt Besler, they were still called the Kansas City Wizards. Peter Vermes was yet to coach the club. It was more than a decade ago and while plenty has changed, Besler anchoring Kansas City's defense was a constant.
Emphasis on was as the legend's reign at the club is soon to be past tense.
SKC announced their end of season roster decisions with Besler out of contract at his local club, with no note that they were in discussions about a possible return. Speaking with media on a virtual press conference, Vermes confirmed Besler will depart the club this winter. Besler announced he will enter free agency.
"It’s a decision that doesn’t come easy for so many reasons," Vermes said. "Having been here through so many battles during my tenure, I was part of the draft that drafted him and eventually took over as coach, we have so many incredibly fond and lasting memories. It's a relationship I will always hold very dear to my heart.
"But in sports, in a salary-cap world, the idea that players or staff will be with the club forever is not something that is likely. Unfortunately at this moment, we came to the conclusion that we'll separate ways from each other. That doesn't say anything about his contributions to this club other than he's been a tremendous player for this club."
Besler, who will turn 34 in February, made 294 appearances with the club after being selected No. 8 overall in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. He helped lead SKC to winning three US Open Cups (2012, 2015, 2017) and one MLS Cup (2013). He was named MLS Defender of the Year in 2012 and has been named to MLS Best XI twice.
He also made 47 appearances with the US men's national team, twice winning the Gold Cup.
"He's been an incredible ambassador of the sport and Sporting Kansas City," Vermes said. "We thank him for everything he's done, we appreciate all of the contributions he's made on and off the field. ... One day he's going to be one of our legends and we'll welcome him back with open arms and enjoy that moment with him."
Besler isn't the only club stalwart that could be departing this winter, as SKC are in negotiations with the likes of Roger Espinoza and Felipe Gutierrez about a return next season. Neither are under contract.
Sporting enjoyed a strong bounce-back 2020 season after missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade in 2019, finishing atop the Western Conference before being eliminated in the Western Conference semifinal.
As for further reinforcements in central defense, Vermes also noted the club are in negotiations with West Ham about Winston Reid potentially returning in 2021. The longtime Premier League center back was on loan for 2020 and made 10 appearances.