As momentum builds toward Major League Soccer’s 26th season in 2021, Sporting Kansas City players and coaches will look to lay the foundations for another successful campaign when preseason training unfolds this month in Arizona.
With newcomers joining familiar faces for the 2021 preseason presented by Children’s Mercy, SportingKC.com has launched the “Sporting Preseason Spotlight” web series to acquaint supporters with the goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards who will help Sporting Kansas City compete for silverware in 2021. To read up on every player and visit the series archive as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/Spotlight.
During the time he was on the pitch last season, Mexican striker Alan Pulido showed why Sporting Kansas City splashed a club-record transfer fee to acquire his services in late 2019. Pulido, who today celebrates his 30th birthday, was one of the most productive players in Major League Soccer over the course of 2020, earning an MLS Newcomer of the Year nomination in the process.
However, the uber-talented forward missed roughly half of the season due to a combination of untimely injuries and international duties with Mexico. If Pulido can put together a full campaign in Sporting Blue this year, the sky seems to be the limit.
Pulido has scored well over 100 combined goals for club and country during a decorated career highlighted by five domestic championships, the 2018 Concacaf Champions League title and 14 caps for the Mexico Men’s National Team. Born and raised in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, Pulido developed in the heralded Tigres UANL youth academy before breaking into the first team, where he won Liga MX and Copa MX titles. After winning a Greek title with Olympiacos in 2016, he returned to Mexico to become a superstar at Chivas de Guadalajara, where he won another batch of Liga MX and Copa MX titles as well as the 2018 Concacaf Champions League.
Strong displays in a Sporting uniform helped Pulido reclaim a spot on the Mexico Men’s National Team last fall. He joined El Tri for a pair of international friendlies in the Netherlands in October and featured in a 2-2 draw comeback draw against Algeria, marking his first cap since November 2018.
Pulido enjoyed a brilliant first season in MLS as one of the league’s most well-rounded attackers. Tallying team-highs with six goals and five assists in 12 regular season appearances, the forward led MLS newcomers and ranked third overall with 0.92 combined goals and assists per game. Additionally, Pulido was the first player since Josh Wolff in 2005 to lead the club in both goals and assists as well as the first newcomer to lead the team in both categories since Preki in 1996.
Simply put, Pulido had a remarkable impact on Sporting’s success. Manager Peter Vermes’ side went 8-2-1 and averaged 2.27 goals in the 11 regular season matches that he started. His contributions helped Sporting finish atop the Western Conference standings with a 12-6-3 record and 1.86 points per match—the highest clip in the club’s 25-year history. It's a shame that Sporting had to play both of their playoff games without Pulido, who was sidelined with an injury.
In all competitions last season, Pulido racked up seven goals and five assists in 14 matches. Extrapolate that over the course of 34 matches, or a full MLS season, and you get 17 goals and 12 assists. Those are MLS MVP-type numbers. It would be asking a lot for Pulido to sustain that level over an entire seven-month campaign, but if 2020 was any indication, he's certainly capable of it.
Either way, expect Pulido to log substantial minutes at the No. 9 position as long as he stays healthy. He could also shoulder an important role for Mexico as El Tri juggles a busy 2021 with World Cup qualifying, the Concacaf Gold Cup and the Concacaf Nations League.
In the 11 regular season matches that Pulido started last year, Sporting went 8-2-1 and averaged 2.27 goals per game. In the 10 regular season matches he didn't start, Sporting went 4-4-2 and averaged 1.3 goals per game.
He Said It
"Last season did not finish the way that I wanted and it made me sad. However, I am recovered now and I am optimistic for this upcoming season. I want to play the best that I can and I hope to continue to reach the goals that I have set for myself."
Pulido speaking to media last week after watching from 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs from the sidelines with an injury.
Did You Know?
On March 31, 2012, a 21-year-old Pulido scored for Mexico at Children's Mercy Park to pace a 3-1 win over Canada in the 2012 Concacaf Men's Olympic Qualifying Championship. Mexico would win the tournament two days later and go on to win the gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.