MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Sporting KC record signing Alan Pulido "more than likely" out for 2022

The new year is not off to an ideal start for Sporting Kansas City.

A week before preseason begins, manager and sporting director Peter Vermes dropped the bombshell that forward Alan Pulido will "more than likely" miss the entire 2022 season following surgery on his left knee. SKC are expecting him to be out for 9-12 months but will confirm that diagnosis following surgery, which is set for Jan. 17.

Pulido originally injured that knee last spring and tried to play through it, making 21 appearances (15 starts) with eight goals and three assists. Pulido had minor knee surgery in October to clear up the issue, and he returned from that procedure to start their Audi MLS Cup Playoffs loss to Real Salt Lake, but the long-term problem was not fixed.

"It’s very hard to replace someone like Alan because of his quality," Vermes told media on a virtual press conference Tuesday. "He’s a high-quality player. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do that, we’re going to do our best. We’ve been searching for quite a while now, we’ll continue until we find somebody.”

If Pulido does indeed miss the entire season, he will have played in just 33 of SKC's 89 regular-season games since his club-record $10 million acquisition from Liga MX's Chivas ahead of the 2020 season. The Designated Player looked MLS Best XI caliber when healthy, with 14g/8a in 2,414 minutes over two years.

SKC have found the Mexican international's quality and impact difficult to replace.

“It’s the knee he injured with the national team. I said this before and I’ll say it again: I give Alan a lot of credit," Vermes said. "He did everything he could. He played through a lot of pain. ... It’s not good for him to be in pain all of the time and not be able to do the things he’s capable of as a player. This is the right approach and it should fix the problem.”

Pulido has mostly been a bit-part player for El Tri, adding to the frustration as he's returned from international duty on multiple occasions with an injury. In 2020, he played just 17 minutes for Mexico in October before returning with complications. In 2021, he didn't feature in a March friendly though picked up this current injury.

SKC can place Pulido on the season-ending injury list, which would free up a senior roster spot and international roster spot, but salary cap relief would be "minimal," Vermes said. It would not free up his DP spot.

The news is compounded by how SKC's Re-Entry Draft selection, forward Robert Beric, will not be joining. SKC and Beric's camp could not come to an agreement on a contract; now the former Chicago Fire FC DP will sign elsewhere. If he stays in MLS, whichever club that signs him must acquire his rights from SKC.

"We provided (Beric) with what we believed was a very good offer, but he didn't like it," Vermes said. "We have a certain amount (of money) that we can spend at the moment. ... It was not one that was attractive enough for him and he declined. So we moved on."

Khiry Shelton is SKC's lone senior natural option at center forward. Wingers Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell could also be options through the center, the same way Gianluca Busio spent time as a false No. 9 in 2021 when Pulido was out and before the homegrown midfielder was transferred to Italian Serie A side Venezia FC.

In addition to looking to acquire another center forward, Vermes said SKC will be strengthening every position group outside of goalkeeper.

“There will be some announcements in the coming days and weeks on different players we’ve signed," Vermes said.

Amid the big news, Vermes updated the status of club legends and free agents Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza. The two veterans remain in contract talks about a return for 2022, though nothing has been agreed or signed just yet. He also added Israeli international Gadi Kinda will miss all of preseason following minor knee surgery, but should be back within the first few games of the 2022 campaign.

Sporting KC have signed MLS veterans Ben Sweat and Uri Rosell so far this offseason, while Ilie Sanchez, Roberto Puncec, Jaylin Lindsey and Luis Martins headline those who have departed.