SKC Can Allure Players With Good Foundation

Sporting KC displays that they have one of the best club systems to further development in MLS
by Katherine Rupp   |   Thursday, April 03, 2014

State of SKC - column on Sporting KC (SKC) & the Kansas City soccer scene.

There has been an influx in recent years of international soccer players wanting to play in Major League Soccer – although many are for differing reasons, including possible playing time for their national teams, to keep fit, or more for a ‘retirement league’ like some older or overage players from different countries (some might mention names like Marco Di Vaio or rumored Orlando City DP Kaka in that category) – and although some of it is welcomed, many soccer fans in the US believe we (MLS supporters) are at the stage where it’s not necessary for big-name international players to come here.

However polarizing it may be to the previous week’s article, there's a reason that MLS players would like to stay – rather than leave for overseas leagues – in the top-tier of the American soccer market: the quality of players who are coming up from homegrown and development clubs – and also college programs – to then excel in a thriving professional market in the United States rather than overseas.

There are players – specifically Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi and Matt Besler – who are prime examples of players who honed their playing skills in the US’s youth soccer system and then grew up to where they are now. In Zusi’s instance it was in Florida, then to college soccer in Maryland while Besler grew up playing in Kansas City, attended and played college soccer at the University of Notre Dame, and for both players, their paths ultimately led to finessing their skills at Sporting Kansas City.

The most recent MLS Player of the Week for the fourth week of the 2014 MLS season, Zusi has shown how much a player can grow with only a few years removed from college, plus by being drafted and chosen into a system that fits his style. Over the past handful of years, Zusi and Besler have become mainstays on the US Men’s National Team and are expected to go to Brazil. As is the case, Zusi signed a contract in 2013 to extend another four years. The promising news of such an important, and exciting, player for the US committing for an extended period of time shows not only progress in MLS but also in the system, coaching, and ideology that Sporting Kansas City have as a club.

In late 2012, about a half a year previous to Zusi signing his contract, Besler signed a reported 4-year contract with his hometown club. Although neither Zusi nor Besler have played overseas other than on trial, players from the MLS system who are seen as strong players are seeing more callups to the national team. As more players choose MLS over other options in Liga MX, the Premier League, Championship or other leagues, the better it is for the national team and each individual’s career in that they will, most likely, play more minutes while still be gaining the exposure and experience of being a professional soccer player.

It is true that Kansas City players have often left to go overseas, while others on the SKC roster are drawn to the club, among multiple aspects, for the attacking style with which they play. A Spaniard from the Barcelona youth academy with a good eye for tactical formations and defensive midfield work, Uri Rosell came to Sporting Kansas City in 2012 and has been a force to be reckoned with since then. Although Rosell played only 5 games that first season he came to Kansas City, his incredible play led to the Catalan playing (and starting in all) 31 out of the 34 games that Sporting KC had in 2013. Rosell isn’t as nearly well-known as a Xavi, Iniesta, or Bastian Schweinsteiger, but he is more than capable to sustain a defensive midfield presence to then extend Sporting Kansas City’s trophy win streak and to continue on a path of a great and long career.

A USMNT player, Brazilian-born Benny Feilhaber, was transferred to the club in 2013 and has provided the missing spark that SKC needed once a few important players (Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara, namely) left to go overseas. Feilhaber, unlike most other MLS players, started his professional career overseas, first playing in the Bundesliga, then the Premier League and finally in Spain, before coming to play for the New England Revolution in MLS until eventually settling in Kansas City.

Even though Feilhaber’s journey from playing in foreign leagues to now playing in MLS has not been the most recent course of action for most players, at the very least the US international can be an example of being able to play top capacity – especially after becoming ‘Sporting Fit’ – and to still have the ability to be called in to national team camps or games.

Although Feilhaber’s story of overseas to the US is not the norm for most MLS players, the attacking midfielder, along with Uri Rosell, can be the representation for players who have been across the pond or border and desired to play in MLS because of the options the league brings.

Additionally, Besler and Zusi’s standard of signing longer contracts, especially while being in the midst of their prime years, is an encouragement that what the club is doing, is doing it the right way. SKC are able to find and secure high caliber international and domestic players, and by doing so, show MLS and overseas soccer fans, club owners, coaches, and investors, that Kansas City is a viable spot for a player to be in a rooted environment with room for growth and development, and to have a thriving career as a professional soccer player.

 NEXT UP: April 5 – Sporting Kansas City v. Real Salt Lake, Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kan., 8:30 p.m. EST, MLS Live.

Katherine RUPP

Drake University
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Unabashed Minnesotan by birth. Tried reliving the glory days of collegiate intramural soccer championships but an ACL tear dashed future hopes of adult recreational greatness. Covering a city’s team that’s too big for one state: SKC.