[MLS SPOTLIGHT]He’s not a Designated Player, but he’s being paid like one. That’s the cryptic condition -- of which MLS is probably the master -- attached to a new deal for Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusithat was announced on Friday.
Salary terms were not disclosed. The contract extension binds his rights to MLS and SKC until 2017. Since his base salary ($140,000) and guaranteed compensation ($173,812.50) for 2013 were on the low side for a U.S. international with Best XI honors under his belt, some financial restructuring has been done to, presumably, increase his compensation into the neighborhood of the $368,750 salary-budget charge imposed on DPs.
“I would say, for all intents and purposes, that he really is a DP,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said on Friday during a news conference. “The difference is that there are certain monies available, that I have the ability to use within the salary cap, that are what are called ‘retention funds’ – to be able to retain certain players within your roster. That allows us to bring him under that DP level.”
Not addressed is whether "retention funds" are something akin to allocation money, the uses of which include retaining players signed to new contracts. Since technically Zusi signed an extension, not a new deal, perhaps it’s just another wrinkle in the mysterious process of how money flows in MLS.
Zusi, 26, earned MLS All-Star and Best XI honors and was an MVP finalist in 2012 after leading the league with 15 assists and scoring five goals. His career totals are 14 goals and 28 assists in 110 career matches, all with SKC. He has expressed interest in going overseas and this new contract would make any such move more expensive. He’s not been averse to expressing his happiness at playing for the club that drafted him 23rd overall in the 2009 SuperDraft.
“I don't want to get ahead of myself. I just signed a four-year deal,” he said. “So that's where my head's at now. Who knows? Eventually it could happen. My dream of playing in Europe -- I'm not going to go there just to say I'm playing in Europe. I want to be in a spot where I'm getting the best training, the best competition that I can play at.
“I'm not going to go to a league just because of the name of the league,” he went on. “I want to get the most consistent competition that I can, and for me right now that's right here.”
Vermes has no doubts Zusi could flourish outside of MLS. He has played the attacker, nicknamed “Zeus,” in different positions and formations during his pro career and crisply ticks off the reasons for his success.
“You can talk about the skill, the technique, all that other stuff,” Vermes said. “But his work ethic -- his transitional moments in games, defense to offense and offense to defense, the pace at which he goes -- there are people who don't even notice it because they think that's what you're supposed to do. But look around the field and look what the other guys are doing. That's not happening. He's special in that respect.”