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Sporting KC locks up World Cup stars Zusi, Besler

AP - Sports
Sporting KC locks up World Cup stars Zusi, Besler
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Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi, left, and Matt Besler, right, celebrate as they carry the MLS Cup after their 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup soccer final match in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) -- Two of the U.S. team's breakout stars from the World Cup will keep playing at home.

Graham Zusi and Matt Besler signed long-term designated player contracts to remain with MLS Cup champion Sporting Kansas City, the club announced Saturday night. Both players had received interest from abroad after their strong performances in Brazil.

''Graham and Matt have both proven over the past almost six seasons that they are core players within this club,'' Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said shortly before Saturday night's game versus the Los Angeles Galaxy.

''They have had a tremendous impact on creating a winning culture, and these agreements keep us on the path of attaining our goals and expectations.''

The designated-player rule, which was put in place before the 2007 season, allows clubs to acquire up to three players whose salaries exceed their budget charges. The club is then responsible for the amount of compensation above each player's budget charge.

In according with league and club policy, specific terms of the deals were not disclosed.

''Getting these deals completed is extremely beneficial for the organization and the two players,'' Vermes said in a statement. ''I want to thank the ownership group for their continued vision and commitment to securing both players for the long term.''

Zusi appeared in all four games for the U.S. in Brazil, contributing assists in back-to-back games in the group stage against Ghana and Portugal. The 27-year-old midfielder, also a three-time MLS All-Star, has scored three goals in 27 career games for the national team.

He's been Sporting KC's most valuable player the past two seasons, and last year was chosen as the team's top offensive player. He was also nominated for best MLS player at the recent ESPYs.

The former University of Maryland standout needed eight corner kicks heading into Saturday night's game to surpass Preki for the most in club history. He's also tied for third on the team's career assists chart with 35, and his 15 game-winning assists are third-most in franchise history.

''This is where I have always wanted to be,'' said Zusi, who just signed a new contract last year that would have kept him with Sporting KC through 2017. ''I've always respected players who have played their entire career with one team and I look forward to a long career in Kansas City.''

While Zusi has spent his entire career in Kansas City, Besler has spent most of his life there.

He grew up in the suburb of Overland Park, Kansas, starred at Notre Dame and quietly became one of Major League Soccer's best defenders. But it was his sterling performance in Brazil, where he started all four games for the U.S., which opened the eyes of clubs in Europe. He confirmed interest earlier this week from English Premier League Clubs Sunderland and Fulham.

The 27-year-old Besler was under contract through next season, but the building interest from abroad made it prudent for Sporting KC to agree to a long-term deal that almost certainly includes a significant bump from his $220,000 salary.

''This is a dream come to true to know that I'll be playing my whole career in Kansas City,'' Besler said. ''A lot of factors went into this decision, but the ownership and the great fans played a huge part. Now, there is a responsibility to go forward to keep pushing this team farther.''

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