Coach and teammates alike were full of praise for Alan Pulido after the Sporting Kansas City striker marked his return from injury with both goals in a 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.
Making his first start since the end of August because of a muscle injury, the Mexico international scored both of his team's goals, his first since the MLS is Back Tournament in July. Pulido demonstrated again just why Sporting spent a club-record fee to sign him from Chivas ahead of the 2020 season, with head coach Peter Vermes calling him a special player after the victory.
"He’s a deadly assassin around the goal," Vermes said. "His play between the lines was tremendous for us today. It’s a big thing that we talked about today in this game against this team, how we were going to find opportunities against them and we did, so that was huge."
Pulido's first was able to bail Sporting out of a first half the Dynamo almost completely dominated, producing an impressive individual effort after Gianluca Busio fed him the ball to find space and outmatch a pair of Dynamo defenders with a run to the penalty area and the finish.
"When the team recovered the ball, I saw the space that I could run into and also Busio saw the space as well," Pulido said. "He made the run and Busio made an incredible pass into the space and from there, I was able to beat the defender and score the goal."
Busio also assisted Pulido's second in the 73rd minute, which proved the eventual game-winner after Houston mounted a late comeback attempt with a goal six minutes from time. This time Pulido had less to do after Busio found him in space in the box but it was a decisive and impressive finish nonetheless.
"So many players hit that ball right at the goalkeeper," Vermes said. "For him to just slide the way he did and finish it off the way he did, he’s a world-class player."
It was one of Pulido's best performances in his so far short tenure with Sporting KC, and truly allowed his team to get into a strong rhythm in a game where they didn't dominate in possession but in the second half were the more active attacking side.
"He’s a finisher and he moves well," Busio said. "His movement is unreal and it makes it a lot easier for me to just make a simple pass and he’ll do a lot with it. With a lot of the good players, it makes everything a lot easier. We think the same and we play off of each other and it showed. He’s such a good player that any midfielder could look pretty good with him in front of 'em."
Busio hoped that Pulido would eventually return the favor after setting him up with two assists, but in the meantime, Pulido sent compliments toward his younger teammate.
"He gets better as a footballer every time he plays. He learns as a footballer every time he plays," Pulido said. "If he continues with this trajectory, he will go a long way because he is a really talented footballer. The passes were incredible to get me in these positions."
Above all, Saturday's match made a case that Kansas City's success is linked strongly to Pulido's, and his return comes in a meaningful stretch of nine matches in a month to close out the regular season. Sitting four points behind Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders, the player and the team could be peaking at the right time.
"It felt really good to be out there," Pulido said. "It felt good to get the two goals, but more importantly is the triumph of the team and more importantly to me is how the team does."