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Sporting KC says farewell to pair of club legends in flurry of Friday MLS roster moves

For years, it was hard to imagine a Sporting Kansas City roster that didn’t include Major League Soccer veterans Roger Espinoza and Graham Zusi.

That changed Friday afternoon.

Sporting KC announced a host of end-of-year roster moves that included the club’s decision to decline contract options for 2024 on the two 38-year-olds.

Both are local legends. The pair made 810 combined appearances, playing 61,885 combined minutes, for Sporting KC. Zusi ranks first and Espinoza second all-time in those categories for Kansas City’s MLS club.

Shortly after Friday’s announcement, the club posted elaborate thank-yous to the two players across various social media channels.

A talented defender and sometimes-member of the U.S. Men’s National Team, Zusi contributed to four major trophies during his 15-year pro career — spent entirely in KC — including the 2013 MLS Cup championship and three U.S. Open Cup titles (2012, 2015, and 2017).

He also ranks second all-time in assists (90) and goal contributions (125) and is the longest-tenured player with one club in MLS history.

Midfielder Espinoza, meanwhile, ranks fifth in club history for assists (49) and is the team’s all-time leader for appearances in the U.S. Open Cup. He’s tied with Zusi for third in MLS playoff appearances and made numerous appearances for his native Honduras during international competition.

Alongside Matt Besler, who played for Austin briefly before retiring in November 2021, Zusi, who hails from Florida, and Espinoza became synonymous with the club’s success in the 2010s. They continually found ways to make an impact at different positions later in their careers. But this season Zu recorded their fewest minutes played since 2010 (Zusi) and 2009 (Espinoza). Along the way, it became clear both men were in the twilight of their careers.

Sporting KC also on Friday declined contract options on midfielder Felipe Gutierrez and center-back Kortne Ford. A flare-up in his knee sidelined Gutierrez for Sporting KC’s recent playoff run. He was the injury-replacement signing for Ford, who tore an Achilles in the preseason.

Ford’s time at Sporting KC started last season as he returned from a gruesome knee injury. Later in the year, he was suspended for 10 games for violating the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health policy after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

Goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh, midfielder Cam Duke and forward Gadi Kinda are all out of contract, but only McIntosh is eligible for free agency. He enjoyed the most playing time of his pro career this season, starting 14 matches and keeping two clean sheets.

Duke, a Sporting KC Academy product from Overland Park, has been on a first-team contract since 2020. The 22-year-old scored three goals and made two assists in 2,246 minutes with Sporting KC. But he played just 135 minutes this season.

As for Kinda, the club has offered him a “bonafide contract” in order to retain his MLS rights. Kinda can sign elsewhere — in MLS or beyond — or eventually sign a contract extension to remain in Kansas City.

Sporting KC also picked up the options of eight players: Stephen Afrifa, Willy Agada, Robert Castellanos, Jake Davis, Danny Flores, Chris Rindov, Johnny Russell and Remi Walter.