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Sporting KC signs 4 to contract extensions, including USMNT-capped Zusi and Besler

Aug 18, 2018; Kansas City, KS, USA; Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi (8) and midfielder Roger Espinoza (17) with the ball at Children's Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary Rohman/MLS/USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY — Early on in the 2018 season, Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes had an idea of what he wanted to accomplish.

Sure, trophies are still part of his vision for the season. But also on the to-do list was making sure the club kept several of its long-time players around.

By the second week of the season, Vermes had sat down with three of those players – Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza – and told them that inking their contract extensions was on his priority list. And on Tuesday, that vision became a reality. Sporting signed four of its mainstays to new multiyear contract extensions Tuesday. Included in that haul are defenders Besler and Zusi, and midfielders Espinoza and Ilie Sanchez.

All were in the final years of their contracts this season, except for Ilie.

Terms of each contract were not disclosed, other than the fact that each was for multiple seasons. 

“I remember bringing Roger, Bes and Zus into the classroom (at Pinnacle National Development Center in Kansas City, Kan.) and saying to all three of them, ‘Hey, we want to sign you guys,’” Vermes said. “We’re gonna start working on it. … Just be a little patient; we’ll get this thing done. None of them showed any sign of wanting in any way, shape or form to be somewhere else.”

Both Zusi and Besler have spent their entire careers in Kansas City. Besler, a Kansas City-area native, has rewritten pieces of the club record book: He is the all-time club leader in appearances (293), starts (285) and minutes played (25,805). He’s also earned 47 caps with the U.S. Men’s National Team – only eclipsed within the squad by Zusi’s 55 caps.

“I feel challenged every single day, and we have a chance to win every single year,” Besler said of why he wanted to stay with Sporting, despite the chance at free agency before inking his new deal. “I want to continue to be a part of that.”

Zusi is also high up in the club’s record books – second in history in regular-season assists (60) and regular-season appearances (244).

Espinoza has appeared 247 times for Sporting, despite a short period away from the club. He signed with English Premier League club Wigan Athletic in 2013, but returned to Major League Soccer – and Kansas City – in 2015. Since then, Espinoza has started all 103 of his appearances over the past four seasons in MLS.

“I got to see what was out there, and coming back to Sporting, the culture was still there,” Espinoza said. “It was a no-brainer for me to keep going and work hard with these guys.”

For Ilie, the need to re-sign, on its face, wasn’t quite as urgent: He still had a year left on his contract. Still, after his performance over the past two seasons, Vermes wanted to lock him down in a more long-term deal.

Ilie has started 68 of Sporting’s 69 matches during his time in Kansas City, and won Sporting KC Newcomer of the Year honors last year. He was named to the MLS All-Star game this summer.

Keeping these four on the roster was the latest example in Sporting’s desire for continuity within its foundation.

“Obviously it’s important for us as an organization – and I think most of you have seen it over the years – that we’ve had a very consistent approach to the way that we’ve formed our roster and obviously guys that have been around for a long time, there’s a reason why,” Vermes said. “They fit into the culture of the club. They fit into the model of play obviously very well, and they’ve also helped the organization get results and obviously championships.”

Maintaining that level of success was also a reason for the contract extensions, on the players’ side.

“We’re not looking back on what we’ve done so far,” Zusi said. “We’re looking forward, and we have a lot left to do.”

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