By DAN KARELL
Though it took many by surprise, Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi signing a contract extension on Friday had been in the works for a long time.
For his head coach Peter Vermes, Zusi signing on the dotted line couldn’t have come at a better time.
The 2011 MLS Breakout Player of the Year has not only continued his fine MLS Best XI form from last season to this year for his club, but he has also impressed for the U.S. Men’s National Team, providing width, accurate passing, and defense in the U.S. recent run of four wins in a row, three of them in World Cup qualifiers.
The 26-year-old Maryland product’s value is as high as it has ever been, and Vermes is glad that Zusi’s chosen to sign a new and improved deal, which sources tell SBI is a four-year deal with three guaranteed years.
“He’s a franchise player,” Vermes said on a media teleconference. “He’s a big player on our team, he’s one of the main guys on our team, he’s developed into not only a very good player for Sporting KC but one for our national team, and we feel that we want to try to retain the players that have come up within our team, and will continue to give us the kind of performance and product we want to put on our field.”
Zusi’s career path is one that many wouldn’t predict to make it to become one of the best in MLS and a regular on the USMNT. From an Orlando-area high school to the college soccer powerhouse of the University of Maryland, to becoming a second round draft pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, Zusi has overcome the odds at every level to succeed and improve year by year.
For all the success that Zusi has earned over the last 24 months, Vermes and the club believe that he’s receiving his just rewards.
“For (Sporting KC) philosophically, as players continue to develop and perform, we’re going to reward them,” Vermes said. “For (Zusi) it’s a win-win, because he knows that we’re not going to hold his feet to the fire if some club comes along that makes a very good offer and he’s interested in making a move.”
Vermes thinks that there is a clear reason for Zusi signing a new deal, and that’s his trust in the club. Whether it’s in terms of playing time in the present or future, knowing that he has the security of earning a larger salary, and perhaps more importantly, knowing that if a potential move abroad won’t be dismissed immediately.
“Graham is a player that obviously has demonstrated that he is committed to the club, not only by his play but by signing on a new extension,” Vermes said. “I think he also trusts us. If a deal does come through for Graham at some point in the term of his contract, we’re going to evaluate it on the merit of the deal, and work around that, working with the player, and making decisions that are best for everyone.”
With Zusi locked up for the near future, Vermes is satisfied that Sporting KC can move on to other players nearing the end of their deals, or potential targets this summer they’re interested in signing.
“It gives us the flexibility of knowing that we secured a guy that is very important to our team, and now we can move on to the next step,” Vermes said.