Retention funds explained: MLS reveals list of 14 players like Graham Zusi re-signed under initiative

Graham Zusi

KANSAS CITY, Kan. ­– Graham Zusi is one of 14 MLS players who have re-signed with their teams since last December using “retention funds.”

MLS executive vice president of player relations & competition Todd Durbin revealed to a small group of reporters before Wednesday’s All-Star Game that the league’s so-called “Core Players” initiative has been in place since this past offseason as a mechanism for teams to retain key members of their roster before their contracts expire instead of losing them to foreign leagues.

Sporting KC re-signed Zusi in late June to what manager Peter Vermes said was “for all intents and purposes” a Designated Player deal without classifying him as a DP. That was thanks to the extra financial resources of the Core Players initiative, which Durbin explained gives all clubs extra money in their salary budgets that do not count against the cap.

With his previous deal set to expire at the end of this season, and with European clubs reportedly interested in the US national teamer, Zusi was “a textbook case” of the type of player the Core Player initiative was meant to target when it was first discussed with MLS teams, according to Durbin.

Matt Besler, who re-signed with Sporting KC in December, is another such example.

“We think the [clubs’] ownership group should be allowed to spend some amount of money to retain those players,” explained Durbin, “to increase their contract amounts, to not have it count against the salary budget so that we’re able to keep them longer-term and make that investment in those players.’”

Besides Zusi and Besler, the other players re-signed by their clubs using the same mechanism are Tony Beltran and Chris Schuler (RSL), Sam Cronin (San Jose), Diego Fagundez (New England), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle), George John (FC Dallas), Juninho (LA Galaxy), Gershon Koffie (Vancouver), Dax McCarty (New York), Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne (Colorado) and Chris Pontius (D.C. United).

All MLS teams are allotted a set dollar amount to be used as retention funds to apply toward eligible players. The league declined to provide exact eligibility criteria, but it is believed to be defined as younger than a certain age and with a minimum number of minutes played per season. Durbin declined to disclose the exact dollar value, but added that the funds are tradable assets, similar to allocation money.