Matt Besler and Graham Zusi have been Sporting Kansas City teammates for more than five years. They’ve been roommates, first at Besler’s parents’ house in Overland Park, Kan. and then at their own apartment. They were drafted together, won a championship together and went to a World Cup together. Even their dogs are sisters.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that they pledged their futures to Sporting KC on the same day and that their Designated Player contracts are nearly identical. Nor is it shocking that the reigning MLS champs received a bit of a hometown discount from Besler, in whom there was considerable interest abroad.
Besler, 27, and Zusi, 27, each signed guaranteed deals on July 19 that are good through the 2018 season. They’ll each earn a pro-rated base salary of $600,000 this year, according to information provided to SI.com from multiple sources.
Each player then will see his base compensation rise to $650,000 in 2015, $700,000 the following season, $725,000 in 2017 and $750,000 during the final year. Besler also has a no-trade clause, and both players have marketing and performance bonuses that could see their income rise further. For example, Zusi will earn an additional $55,000 if SKC wins a second consecutive title. Besler will be $35,000 richer if he pockets a second MLS Defender of the Year award.
Their base salaries for at least the next two years apparently will fall short of what the Houston Dynamo are paying DaMarcus Beasley. The 32-year-old winger, who just played in his fourth World Cup, will start off with a base salary of $750,000 and annual guaranteed compensation of $780,000. Besler and Zusi are considerably younger and almost surely had greater options abroad then their veteran U.S. teammate.
Shortly after the U.S. lost to Belgium in the round of 16, Sporting CEO Robb Heineman told The Kansas City Star that there was “enormous interest” in both Besler and Zusi and that offers had been made for Besler, the club captain, by teams “all over the world.” One source told SI.com that English Premier League side Sunderland was prepared to pay Besler around $1.2 million per season, although a transfer fee would have had to have been negotiated as well. He was set to become a free agent in December 2015.
Besler’s contract had become a bit of a joke around MLS. The 2012 Defender of the Year was making only $200,000 this season, according to figures released by the MLS Players Union. And that was a number negotiated after he’d won the award. It compares to the $1 million in base salary (and $1.25 million in annual guaranteed compensation) earned by L.A. Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez, who started alongside Besler twice in Brazil. And it meant that Besler wasn’t even one of the top 30 highest-paid defenders in the league.
He’s certainly on that list now, although there’s always been the sense that Besler considers salary to comprise only part of the equation. His agent, Eddie Rock, told The Star before the DP deal was signed, “With Sporting Kansas City in particular, Matt fully realizes he’s playing at the top club in the U.S. There are very few places Matt could go where you’re going to see the same type of training facilities, stadiums and support. And he’s the captain of that team. That means something.”
Rock continued, “If Matt re-signs with the league now, his intentions would be to be a one-club player for the rest of his career.”
Zusi, meanwhile, already had made a significant commitment to Kansas City. He inked a new four-year contract (which included two option years) last summer that bumped his base salary from only $140,000 at the start of 2013 to $365,000 this season, which made him the highest paid player at Sporting Park. He'll now share that distinction with his friend.
The new DP contracts alter SKC’s salary structure a bit, but the club remains in decent shape financially, having recently sold midfielder Uri Rosell to Lisbon's Sporting CP. It could benefit during the upcoming expansion draft that will stock Orlando City and New York City FC (in the past, DPs lacking a no-trade clause didn’t have to be protected) and will enter 2015 with a free DP spot following the expected departure of forward Claudio Bieler.