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Zusi and Espinoza Re-Sign with Sporting KC; A Look at Their Place on the Roster

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Zusi, Espinoza and Vermes all talked to the press today after the news of their new contracts with Sporting Kansas City.

MLS: Playoffs- Round One-Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Sporting Kansas City Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, Sporting Kansas City announced they are re-signing future club legends, Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza. Zusi signed a one year deal through 2022 with an option for 2023. Espinoza signed through just 2022. However, neither player sounded like they thought this was the end, especially Zusi.

“I’m going to go as absolutely long as I can,” said Zusi. “I still feel I can contribute at a high level.” And contribute he did. In 2021 he had one of his best seasons as a member of SKC (let’s block out that rough 10-15 minutes to end the playoffs). It was the best I’ve seen him since 2018, when Sporting KC went all the way to the Western Conference Finals. Zusi added, “for me there is no timeline for this.” He’s not looking at this as a one or two year deal. He’s going to do it until he can’t do it anymore.

Roger Espinoza echoed a similar response. He talked about managing his body and his minutes and he said he and head coach Peter Vermes are in consistent communication about it. Despite Roger being the oldest midfielder on the team, he had the most minutes of any of his teammates, edging out Gadi Kinda, as Kinda spent time away with Israel, Remi Walter dealt with injuries and Felipe Hernandez was suspended.

For both guys, free agency was on the table. They are established league veterans and they more than met the qualifications to be eligible to sign with other teams. “When a player enters free agency, they get some calls,” stated Zusi to the media on Thursday. “That did happen.” But it sounds like there was never any real consideration to play anywhere else. “I wanted to be here, I made that clear” said Zusi. “Sporting and I were able to come to terms where we were both happy.” He ended with an emphatic statement: “It would have had to be outrageous for me to consider [leaving in free agency].”

As for Espinoza, he doesn’t know if he was in demand like Zusi. Espinoza stated with a grin, he was “on vacation around the world and my phone was off, so I don’t know if I got any offers.” Both players, if they were to retire at the end of their deals, would have played every single MLS minute as a member of Sporting KC. For Zusi, it’ll have been his only professional club.

As for their coach, Vermes wanted to stress this wasn’t some sort of “ceremonial” contract offer. “Both players (Espinoza and Zusi) have a lot to offer on the field,” stated Vermes. He went on to talk about both their on and off field contributions.

For at least one more year, they’ll be giving those contributions to Sporting Kansas City.

Where Does Zusi Fit?

With the return of Graham Zusi, as expected, he should be the starting right back. Gone is his strongest competitor for those minutes in Jaylin Lindsey, who was recently traded to MLS expansion club Charlotte FC. For his part, Zusi said, “I was sorry to see Jay leave our club. I’m really excited for his opportunity in his hometown.” He went on to say that Lindsey is a “great kid” and that he has a “great future ahead of him.”

Zusi didn’t say whether he expected to be the starter, but he was high on his fellow right back, 18-year-old Kayden Pierre. Or “KP” as Zusi called him. I fully expect Zusi to start but Pierre to get his first MLS minutes and to hopefully become a heavy contributor in 2022. If it’s not Pierre, it has to be someone else to keep legs fresh.

Where Does Espinoza Fit?

For me, he should be the fifth midfielder on the roster. No offense to Roger, I love the guy. He’s a legend. And the way he plays is super integral to this team. However, as I stated in my Depth Chart to end 2021, Gadi Kinda, Remi Walter, Felipe Hernandez and Cam Duke should get the lion share of the minutes. Sure, Espinoza led the team last year (barely), but injuries, suspensions and international duty no doubt played a part in that. He played about 900 minutes less than he could of, so I believe PV was managing those minutes and some of the circumstances (some!) where out of his control.

Regardless of how much they play, or how long they want to play, sports are a fickle beast. Father time is undefeated, as they say. So this could be the last year we have with these two legends. Enjoy it.