KANSAS CITY, Kan. – When Matt Besler and Graham Zusi rejoined Sporting Kansas City after their World Cup run with the US national team, manager and technical director Peter Vermes said sorting out the stars' futures would be a high priority for the club.
He wasn't kidding. Sporting got both locked up early in the summer transfer window, signing Besler and Zusi to multi-year Designated Player contracts that were announced about an hour before the kickoff of Saturday's 2-1 home victory over the LA Galaxy.
“It was a priority because we’ve proven that we’re an organization that knows what we want and we go after it,” Vermes said in a postmatch news conference with his new DPs. “It’s not as if these were two guys on the outside that we were courting. It was making it understood that between them and us, that at the end of the day, we want them here long-term.”
Besler, who started all four of the Nats' matches in Brazil on the left side of central defense, and Zusi, who had two assists in those four matches, both said they were comfortable with signing early in the window and linking their futures with that of the defending MLS Cup champs through 2018.
“There were a lot of things in favor of staying at home and staying with this club,” said Besler, a Kansas City-area native who had drawn the more intense transfer speculation of the two. “I don't feel like I need to sit here and rattle all of them off, but at the end of the day, the ownership group is a special group. When I had meetings with them, they made me feel like part of their family, and that stuff doesn't happen a lot in sports. I feel like I can trust them, and they can trust me, and I'm comfortable moving forward with them.”
The two friends, who came as rookies together with the then-Wizards in 2009, did consult with each other the night before before deciding to sign their DP deals.
“Matt and I are very close friends,” Zusi said. “We don't keep a lot from each other. I think our relationship is strong enough to not be jealous of each other in any situation, or anything like that. Matt and I, we definitely talked. And everyone knew it. We were very open about it, and I think it was a good thing in the end.”
Social media reaction was mixed after the deal was announced, with Sporting fans celebrating the club's move while some questioned whether the players were choosing a comfortable path that would not help them – or the national team – get better.
Club president Robb Heineman had a blunt take on that latter viewpoint.
“I've seen a lot of stuff on social media around – 'Oh, you know, this is not a good decision for the guys from a national team perspective' – and to me, that's complete BS,” he told reporters. “This is one of the best clubs in the world from a development perspective. The opportunity and the tools that are available here, including Peter and the way he trains these guys, is world-class. So any reference or thought that it's not a first-class opportunity for these guys to be here, to me, is just complete crap.
“This club has the desire to be one of the greatest in the world,” he continued. “I think right now, we're the greatest in MLS. Frankly, I think there's no question that we're the greatest in MLS. And we're going to do everything that we can to try to continue to advance the vision of the club over time.”
And in the shorter term, Vermes said, getting the deal done early also helps Sporting focus on the remainder of the regular season and next month's start of CONCACAF Champions League play.
“It was important to get it done because we have a lot of games to play and we want to win,” he said. “And we want to make sure we’ve got the best players as a part of our organization, and that’s what these guys are. That’s why we wanted to get it done as quickly as possible.”