Contract negotiations can often be ugly, drawn out, tenuous affairs. When a club has the chance to complete one without too many headaches, it’s important for them to take full advantage.
Sporting Kansas City did just that with four of their most important players earlier this week, announcing on Tuesday that they signed veterans Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi and Ilie Sanchez to new, multi-year deals.
“All in all, I think for everybody, it was probably for all of them a smooth negotiation,” SKC head coach and technical director Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com Thursday.
For Besler, Espinoza and Zusi, whose contracts were all set to expire after this year, contract talks began a week or two after the start of this season. Vermes sat down with the trio in March to let them know that SKC wanted to bring them all back for 2019 and beyond, asking each for a bit of patience as the club targeted the summer for when they wanted to put pen to paper.
Ilie’s new contract was in the works even longer. SKC and the 27-year-old Spaniard sat down late last season and agreed that they’d work on restructuring the deal he signed to move to Kansas City in January 2017 once the club got through with their 2018 roster build. Talks began early this season and slowly built into the summer before really heating up just prior to the All-Star Game last month.
SKC held an option for Ilie’s previous contract for 2019. According to the holding midfielder, his new deal is guaranteed through 2021 with a club option for 2022. Vermes didn’t reveal the exact length of Besler’s, Espinoza’s or Zusi’s contracts, but he did tell MLSsoccer.com that all four of the newly re-signed players will earn more than the current maximum budget charge of $504,375. All the new contracts will be eligible to be bought down with Targeted Allocation Money, giving SKC some flexibility on whether they want to count any of the four as Designated Players.
Vermes said that SKC was able to complete all four deals without too much trouble thanks in part to the trade that sent Dom Dwyer to Orlando last summer. Kansas City received $1.6 million in Targeted and General Allocation Money in exchange for Dwyer, with $900,000 of that total coming up front and $700,000 delivered after Dwyer hit several different performance benchmarks in Orlando, who SKC will host on Saturday (8:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info).
Crucially, all that money can be applied directly to Kansas City’s roster budget. As Vermes noted Thursday, that wouldn’t have been the case had SKC sold Dwyer abroad, when league rules would’ve mandated that the club could’ve only turned a transfer fee into a maximum of $750,000 in GAM.
“That’s a big, big difference,” Vermes said. “That money has helped us with a lot of these deals for sure.”
Besler, Espinoza, Zusi and Ilie aren’t the only players SKC has re-signed this year. In February, the club extended goalkeeper Tim Melia through 2020, defender Ike Opara through 2019 with a club option for 2020 and forward Daniel Salloi through 2019 with options for 2020 and 2021. That news came shortly after the club signed Felipe Gutierrez, Johnny Russell and Yohan Croizet to multi-year contracts.
That’s a healthy amount of Kansas City’s core that have been extended or signed to multi-year deals since the end of last season. That should give SKC significant continuity as they head into 2019 and beyond. Both Vermes and Ilie highlighted that consistency as important for a club that doesn’t spend as much as their counterparts near the top of the standings, even if a good number of the players extended are now well into their 30s.
“It’s always been my prerogative that we were going to create a core group and try to keep that group of guys together,” said Vermes. “Then what you do is you never really get too far away from the center. Where the problem is, is that when you’re changing players in and out on a consistent basis, you lose continuity. You’re constantly trying to introduce all those new players to our model of play and I think you then lose consistency. I think the fact that we have had consistent players has been a big help to our model of play and the byproduct of that is results.”
“I think this club is special because they use their resources really well… and they did it for many years,” added Ilie. “Now I think we have the strongest team ever for this club, so it’s time to just show and pay back to the club all what they’ve offered to us over the years.”