Sporting KC signs veterans Zusi, Espinoza for 2022 season

Staff and wire reports
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi knocks the ball away from an attacking Seattle Sounders defender Will Bruin during a match in the 2021 season. Zusi is returning to Sporting KC for the 2022 season and has an option for 2023, the club announced Thursday.

The same week Sporting Kansas City learned it would be without star forward Alan Pulido for the upcoming season, it welcomed back two familiar faces. 

Sporting KC announced Thursday morning it has signed longtime mainstays Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza to contracts for the 2022 season. Zusi, a seven-time Major League Soccer All-Star, also has an option for the 2023 season. 

Zusi, 35, has spent his entire 13-year pro career with Sporting KC and helped his club capture the 2013 MLS Cup and three U.S. Open Cup titles. He is the club’s career appearances leader with 373 matches played across all competitions. He ranks second all-time in assists (87), minutes (29,980) and starts (327) and is 10th in goals scored (33). 

Zusi also has made 55 appearances for the U.S. men’s national team, including four in the 2014 World Cup. 

Zusi started 26 of 28 MLS matches in 2021, becoming the all-time leader for most regular season appearances among one-club players in MLS history. Playing mostly on the back line, he finished with five assists and added a goal and an assist in the MLS playoffs.

Veteran midfielder Roger Espinoza has agreed to return to Sporting Kansas City for the 2022 season.

Espinoza, a midfielder, ranks third in Sporting KC history in appearances (335), starts (295) and minutes (26,143) across all competitions in two separate stints from 2008-12 and 2015 to the present. He has scored 12 goals and is fifth in club history with 43 assists. 

Espinoza, who spent two seasons with Wigan Athletic in the English Premier League between his stints with Sporting, has made 52 appearances with the Honduras national team. Chosen to the MLS All-Star team in 2012, Espinoza is Sporting’s all-time leader in U.S. Open Cup appearances with 21 while helping the club to titles in 2012, 2015 and 2017. 

On Tuesday, Sporting announced that Mexican forward Alan Pulido will need knee surgery and will miss the entire 2022 MLS season. 

The team said Tuesday that Pulido will have surgery Monday with Drs. Bert Mandelbaum and Clint Soppe in Los Angeles. Expected recovery time is nine months to a year. 

Pulido, 30, had eight goals in 21 league games last year in his second season with Kansas City. He played previously for Liga MX’s Tigres (2010-14), Greece's Levadiakos (2015) and Olympiakos (2015-16) and Liga MX’s Chivas (2016-19). 

He has five goals in 20 national appearances for Mexico. He was on the 2014 World Cup roster but did not get in a game. He also played for Mexico in World Cup qualifiers in 2021. 

Feilhaber takes over Sporting KC II 

Former U.S. and Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber was hired Wednesday as head coach of Sporting Kansas City II, a farm team in the new third tier MLS Next Pro. 

The 36-year-old, whose tiebreaking goal on a 22-yard volley beat Mexico in the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, had 44 appearances for the U.S., including at the 2010 World Cup. He spent nine seasons in Major League Soccer, playing for Kansas City from 2013-17 and again in 2019, his final season. 

He retired from playing in March 2020 and became an assistant coach at UCLA, his alma mater. He rejoined Kansas City in January 2021 as director of technical operations, then became Sporting Academy’s under-17 coach last summer. 

In addition to Kansas City, he also played for Hamburg, Derby, Aarhus, New England, Los Angeles FC and Colorado.