When Mexico named their World Cup qualifying roster for the Octagonal’s first three-game window, Sporting Kansas City forward Alan Pulido was surprisingly omitted by head coach Tata Martino.
Midfielders Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy) and Rodolfo Pizarro (Inter Miami CF) were the only El Tri call ups from MLS, and Mexico were ultimately the only Concacaf side to start the final round of qualifying with a win, defeating Jamaica 2-1 Thursday night at Estadio Azteca.
While Pulido’s currently watching his country chase a Qatar 2022 spot from afar, Sporting manager Peter Vermes feels this juncture will serve their Designated Player well as he chases cap No. 18 and beyond.
“I think the world of him, I think that he's a fantastic player and he does very well for our team,” Vermes said of their 30-year-old Designated Player. “But I also just think just for him as a player, this consistency of training, games, all of that, is going to be good for him. And I also think it's not only going to be good for us, but it's also good for Mexico in the long run as well because he'll be in good form.”
Pulido was part of El Tri’s 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup roster, appearing in three of six games off the bench as they lost the tournament’s final against the US men’s national team. But CF Monterrey star Rogelio Funes Mori has emerged as Mexico’s go-to No. 9 and Wolverhampton Wanderers star Raul Jimenez is back in the mix as well. Jimenez, who returned from a skull fracture recently, was unable to travel and join his country this window.
That creates a depth chart Pulido must navigate, and now he gets the chance to regain form during Friday night’s game at LAFC at 9 p.m. CT. His potential role is magnified with Daniel Salloi off representing Hungary during World Cup qualifiers in Europe, with the homegrown strengthening his Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidacy with each passing game.
Pulido, who Sporting acquired in 2020 from Liga MX's Chivas Guadalajara as a club-record signing, has eight goals and three assists on the year through 17 games (13 starts).
“I think in the last tournament he didn't play a lot,” Vermes said. “When you're playing every three to four days, there's not a lot of training that goes on either. So he needs this time, I think to get back into full fitness and into rhythm. So for him, I think it's very good.”
Pulido and Sporting will encounter a shorthanded LAFC side, one that’s missing double-digit players through injury and international duty. They’re also stuck in an eight-game winless streak, last recording three points in a mid-July game against Real Salt Lake.
Perhaps most pressingly, the Black & Gold will also be playing their first game without forward Diego Rossi since he was loaned to Turkish side Fenerbahce. Last year, Rossi won the inaugural AT&T Young Player of the Year award and took home the Golden Boot presented by Audi.
Vermes isn’t reading too much into his absence, noting how Sporting themselves sold homegrown midfielder Gianluca Busio to Serie A side Venezia early this summer. Those dealings, especially as MLS’ global reputation on the transfer market continues to grow, are only bound to increase.
“All due respect to Rossi, he wasn't the team,” Vermes said. “They have a great team.”
LAFC will also be without injured superstar Carlos Vela, as well as regulars Brian Rodriguez, Jose Cifuentes, Diego Palacios and Kim Moon-Hwan, who are all on international duty. In addition to Salloi, Sporting will also be missing Gadi Kinda on international duty.
Vermes knows that three points at Banc of California Stadium won’t come easy, with his side looking to snap a streak of three straight draws. At least for Week 23, a win could give them first place in the Western Conference standings and vault them over Seattle.
“We know we're in for a huge, huge battle against them,” Vermes said. “The last thing that we ever do with anybody is take anyone lightly because first off we're not that good and second you can't do that in this league.”