It’s the end of an era in Kansas City as Sporting Kansas City announced their end of season roster decisions. And while most Sporting fans likely expected some of the news in the announcement, it didn’t make things any easier when the team announced it. Sporting made the decision not to trigger the options on the contracts of Roger Espinoza and Graham Zusi, making the pair free agents. In the ensuing posts by the club on social media it made it clear that unlike previous years when the pair were out of contract, this time they would not be returning to the club.
Their departure means that there are now no players on Sporting’s team from the time when the team was known as the Kansas City Wizards. In a way, it’s remarkable as Sporting is in their 13th season since the rebranding and only now are there no more players from the time of the Wizards. Overall, there are just six active players from the time before the rebranding, Espinoza and Zusi are joined by Teal Bunbury, Sunil Chhetri, Kei Kamara, and Igor Kostrov as the six players still active.
With the departure of the two longest tenured players on Sporting’s roster I thought I’d pay tribute in the best way I can, by giving a statistical look at Espinoza and Zusi’s playing career.
Second in club history in appearances. Three-time US Open Cup Champion. Two World Cups and an Olympics.
— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) December 1, 2023
“Red Card Roger” a nickname initially born out of frustration became one of endearment among KC fans as Espinoza’s career in Kansas City progressed. Espinoza earned 13 red cards in MLS play in his career, all in the regular season. His 13 red cards are the most earned by a player in their career in MLS history, two more than second place, Jamison Olave. Of those 13 red cards, three came against Real Salt Lake, two against Los Angeles FC and Toronto FC, and one each against the Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire, Philadelphia Union, Colorado Rapids, New York City FC, and Portland Timbers. If you want to see his MLS red cards, you can check out this thread from Twitter with them. He earned a 14th red card in a SuperLiga game against Atlas in the 2009 season.
It’s poetic that Espinoza earned more red cards against Salt Lake than any other team considering the role he reportedly played in the preseason game back in 2011 that is seen as the point where the rivalry with Salt Lake really started. His 13 red cards in league play are eight more than second place in KC’s history, Nick Garcia, who earned five. The 14 in all competitions are double Garcia’s total in all competitions (7).
Espinoza also holds the team record for yellow cards in league play (78) and in all competitions (93), where he’s almost 40 clear of second place Kerry Zavagnin on both lists.
In his career with Sporting, Espinoza will finish his time as third all-time in minutes played in league play (24,713), MLS competitions (26,081), and all competitions (29,159). The 940 minutes in all competitions this year was the second lowest of his career after only the 2009 season where he played 897 minutes.
He also finishes second all-time in games played in league play (338), MLS competitions (261), and all competitions (399). The last of which is likely to trigger anyone who likes nice round numbers. One game away from being only the second player to reach 400 games played in all competitions for Kansas City. In his career with KC, Espinoza never played fewer than 16 games in league play, and only once (2009) did he play fewer than 20 games in all competitions.
In terms of starts, he finished his career tied for second in league starts with Matt Besler at 285. In MLS competitions he was third at 301 and in all competitions, he was third at 329.
Espinoza also holds the KC record for competitive games against different opponents. In competitive games in KC’s history, they’ve played 66 different teams, Espinoza has played against 45 of those teams. He’s played six more unique opponents than the next closest, Zusi.
Espinoza wasn’t much of a goal scorer in his time with KC, recording just 12 goals, but he had plenty of assists for Sporting as he was fourth all time in league assists for KC with 45, one behind Chris Klein for third. In MLS competitions he finished his career in fifth with 46, one behind fourth place Benny Feilhaber. He finished in the same spot in all competitions, finishing one short of 50 assists there.
#SportingKC’s all-time leader in appearances and a seven-time MLS All-Star. World Cup veteran and Gold Cup winner.
After 15 seasons, four trophies, and countless community events, a thank you barely covers it.
— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) December 1, 2023
While Espinoza was in the top three on a lot of the lists I mentioned, it’s Zusi who tops a lot of those lists. Zusi has played over 27,000 minutes in league play, 2,200 minutes more than second place, Besler on that list. In MLS competitions, it’s almost 2,500 minutes. Zusi finished his career less than 200 minutes away from 30,000 in MLS competitions. In all competitions he had over 32,000 minutes. On each list he’s first all time.
In terms of appearances, the gap between Zusi and second place (in this case Espinoza) is closer. In all competitions, Zusi appeared in 12 more games than Espinoza, playing in 411. In MLS competitions he reached 378 appearances in KC’s final game of the season against Houston, 17 more than second place Espinoza. He was the same number of games ahead in league play as well with Zusi finishing with 355 games played.
Zusi’s level with regard to his number of starts is even higher. He started 21 more games across all competitions than second place Besler finishing with 358 starts. In MLS competitions he finished with 24 more, at 327. In league play, Zusi is the only player in club history to reach over 300 games started for Sporting, starting 305 league games for KC.
In his career with Sporting, Zusi was more of a goal scorer than Espinoza was. Zusi will finish his career in the top 10 in scoring for Sporting. In league play he finishes his career tied for 9th with 31 goals, the same number as Feilhaber and Mo Johnston. He’s at the same spot in MLS competitions, tied with Johnston at 32 goals scored. In all competitions he was tied with Feilhaber for ninth, finishing with 35 goals. He also scored some important goals, scoring 10 game winners in league play for KC, tied for seventh all time with Davy Arnaud and Johnny Russell. In all competitions Zusi added one more, finishing in ninth place with 11 game winners.
His largest contribution on the field though was in terms of setting up goals. Only the club’s record holder, Preki, recorded more assists than Zusi in league play, MLS competitions, and all competitions. Zusi finished with 74 assists in league play, 81 in MLS competitions, and 90 in all competitions. He did finish his career as Sporting’s all-time leader in assists in the playoffs, recording 7 in the playoffs, three more than anyone else for KC. Zusi also had a knack for the important assists, as he’s the club’s all-time leader in game winning assists in both league play (29) and in all competitions (35).
Zusi’s goal contributions for KC is only topped by Preki’s in his career with Zusi recording 112 goals and assists in league play for KC.
The other place that Zusi stood out above all others that have put on the Sporting jersey is when he went and put on the US national team jersey. No other player in Sporting’s history has represented their country more while a member of the club. Zusi donned the US jersey 55 times in his career, the only player to reach the half century mark while playing for KC. He’s also second all-time in goals by player representing their country while playing for KC. Zusi scored five times for the United States while playing for KC. Only Josh Wolff recorded more, scoring six goals.
As an example of just how far ahead Espinoza, Zusi, and Besler are from the rest of the players in Sporting’s history currently, here’s a look at the numbers. In terms of minutes played, Espinoza, in third of the three on all lists, is anywhere from 3,400 to 4,000 minutes ahead of whoever is in fourth place on those lists, whether it be Tim Melia or Zavagnin.
In terms of appearances, it’s even more staggering, especially for Espinoza and Zusi. Espinoza, who is second to Zusi in league appearances, MLS appearances, and appearances in all competitions has at least 44 more appearances than Besler who is third on all those lists. The closest active player currently to Espinoza is Melia, who has played more than 100 games fewer than Espinoza has in all those categories. The player who even has the “best” chance to either legend is Daniel Salloi who is still almost 200 games played behind first place Zusi in all competitions.
Espinoza and Besler have started 53 more games in league play than fourth place Melia. In MLS competitions, Espinoza has started 50 more games than fourth place Zavagnin and 48 games in all competitions. Zusi’s number of starts stands out more, Zusi played almost a full season’s worth of starts more than Espinoza.
Their play on the field, their involvement in the community, both Espinoza and Zusi are Sporting Legends and sooner than later both will be up on the wall at Children’s Mercy Park. As a friend of mine said regarding that news that describes my feelings the best. I was prepared for Espinoza’s and Zusi’s departure from Kansas City, but I was not ready for it. Both players are so ingrained with the DNA of Sporting that it will be weird to see a team without the two of them.
Since this is my tribute, my thank you, one final thing I’ll add are some of my favorite memories of Espinoza and Zusi. For Zusi there are plenty of moments to pick from. For Espinoza it is definitely harder, not because he wasn’t a great player, but because his endearment to KC fans didn’t come from flashy moments. For Espinoza there was never a doubt about his passion for the game and for playing for KC, it was seen in every game he played.
Zusi vs Chicago Fire September 2012
A brace as Sporting clinch a playoff berth
Zusi vs FC Dallas June 2011
Zusi’s coming out party.
Zusi vs Panama October 2013
Espinoza vs Brazil August 2012
Probably the proudest I’ve felt as a KC fan watching a player on the international stage. Scoring a goal and a standing ovation from the neutral crowd in Newcastle.
Espinoza vs Salt Lake August 2011
A “stereotypical” Espinoza performance, played hard, scored a goal, got a red card.