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Matt Besler versus Graham Zusi All-Time Salary Comparison

They came into MLS together but I couldn’t help but wonder who made more.

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2013 MLS Cup John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty Images

Earlier this week I took a look at the salaries for all the Sporting Kansas City teams from 2010 to 2019. There were some interesting things to see over the last decade like the massive increase in spending from the beginning to end of the decade.

But one thing really jumped out to me. The steady rise in pay for Matt Besler and Graham Zusi and the fact that they’ve played together their entire careers, which is quite unique. They came into the league together in 2009 via the MLS Super Draft. Besler went in the first round and Zusi in the second (what a draft).

Fun fact, just before Zusi was picked in the second the then Kansas City Wizards selected Doug DeMartin from Michigan State University. DeMartin never appeared for KC.

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at their salary data on a yearly basis. Despite Zusi being a second round pick, it’s arguable he’s the more nationally identifiable player (2019 All-Star Team?) over Besler. Despite that, who has been paid more has fluctuated, at least according to the numbers available from the MLS Players Association.

Overall, this is just for fun, since Peter Vermes and others have been pretty clear that there are flaws in the MLSPA numbers.

At the beginning, with Besler being drafted higher, he gets out to an early lead, but not by much. From 2009 to 2011 they were both fairly low paid players, though Besler got bumps each year.

In 2012, Zusi suddenly makes more than Besler. In fact, he made more in the 2012 season than his three prior years as a professional. That salary advantage was short-lived as Besler soon passed Zusi again in 2013.

Then in 2014, Zusi explodes into the lead. He made nearly double what Besler was paid and out-earned him that year and cumulatively at that point. On a year-to-year basis Besler inched back into the lead (but not overall) after the players were given Designated Player contracts on the heels of the 2014 World Cup.

The “inch ahead” would remain Besler’s from 2015 through 2018 until both players got new deals ahead of the 2019 season. Then Zusi jumped back out front on the year-to-year basis, but not by a ton.

I imagine that will remain the case in 2020. Then after 2020, Besler is out of contract with Zusi having 2021 guaranteed on his deal. Zusi could surge out to a lead if Besler were to leave, which he talked to The Blue Testament about in preseason.

In the end, the “winner” of this contest is Graham Zusi. 2014 made all the difference as he made $198,250 more than Besler that year and it couldn’t be overcome.

Of course none of this takes into account endorsement deals or other monies made. You’ve probably all seen the Matt Besler Me Undies “commercial” (if you haven’t you should). Or one of the many high quality Minsky’s Pizza ads featuring Zusi.

Below is the full table.

Besler versus Zusi Salary Comparison

Year Besler Zusi
Year Besler Zusi
2009 $47,250.00 $34,008.00
2010 $61,850.00 $40,000.00
2011 $69,660.00 $42,000.00
2012 $103,001.00 $138,812.50
2013 $180,000.00 $173,812.50
2014 $200,000.00 $398,250.00
2015 $683,250.00 $682,102.00
2016 $733,250.00 $732,102.27
2017 $758,250.00 $757,102.27
2018 $783,250.00 $782,102.27
2019 $674,997.64 $688,333.41
TOTAL $4,294,758.64 $4,468,625.22