Voices: Bradley Wright-Phillips

Alan Pulido: Will we see the best of Sporting KC's top-tier striker?


The other weekend, at the MLS Season Pass studios, we mentioned how Sporting Kansas City are sometimes difficult to talk about because nothing major has changed with them for a bit now.

But what you absolutely can't do is disregard Peter Vermes’ impact, the club’s winning history and the talent they have in that front three. It’s three game-winners, three big-game players – Johnny Russell, Dániel Sallói and Alan Pulido. They can go up against any other front three in MLS and cause real problems for backlines.

The one player who makes it all come together? Pulido.

We saw it last year when he returned from the knee injury that made him miss all of 2022. Once he was healthy and in the starting lineup, Sporting KC were among the better teams in the league – and so often it was Pulido either scoring or creating. Fourteen goals, three assists in 28 games. Comeback Player of the Year Award. A new DP contract. That paints the picture.

If you go through Pulido’s highlights, he does everything. You don't just see him in the box. You see him holding up the ball, you see him beating players with smart touches, you see him running in the box as a No. 9, you see him out wide. He's got a lot of qualities to his game.

Truthfully, I think he is in that top tier of MLS strikers. I don’t see any that are way better than Alan Pulido. The problem, though, has been injuries. And because he missed a lot of football, he can get overlooked in the big conversations. But when he is playing, his goals and assists are almost one-in-two all the time. If you think about the days he's missed, the games he hasn't played (almost half of SKC’s matches from 2020-23), all those numbers he would have. I'm not saying that would work out perfectly, but it’s a player you would be forced to talk about more.

Take Pulido’s stats: 40 goal contributions (29g/11a) in 65 matches. If he stays healthy this year, I promise he’ll produce.

It’s also what you expect from a club-record signing. And when you look at his accolades and where he’s played – for big teams in Liga MX like Tigres and Chivas, he’s been at the World Cup with Mexico – it shouldn't surprise us what he does on the field. Looking at the body of work from his career, the impact he has at Kansas City, it's undeniable. He’s a classy player.

What’s interesting too is Pulido doesn’t operate like a traditional No. 9. By that I mean he wants to come and find the game. I don't think he's as comfortable with letting the game find him. He almost has to go and dictate, come short, play a one-two, then get back on it. That’s when he starts to feel good, like he's running the game and growing into things. It’s getting touches, linking up, finding a clever pass.

It’s different than what we see from someone like Giorgos Giakoumakis at Atlanta United or Dejan Joveljic at LA Galaxy. It’s almost like what Cucho does with Columbus, where he’s comfortable coming into the pocket and creating. Pulido’s maybe not as flashy as Cucho when turning away from defenders, but he’s just as efficient. Everything SKC does goes through him.

Also, Pulido is at a strong club. When I came into the league, back in 2013 with New York Red Bulls, Sporting KC were probably the team I struggled with most to have any success. They were a well-drilled team, they were hard to play against – I’ve always had like a high respect for them. And if you're a player who knows anything about MLS, you don't go to SKC and take them lightly. It's also a great atmosphere. Their fans are unbelievable when you're in that stadium.

That environment surely motivated Pulido to return to his best self after over a year on the sidelines. When you're injured, it can be a very lonely place. It's a lot of rehab and a lot of hard, difficult sessions where you’re disconnected from the group. But while the journey is long and difficult, I think with the best players it builds a beast inside of them so when they come back, it's like you're a kid again. It's like you're almost getting to make your debut again. You think “damn, I missed football so much” and almost have a point to prove.

We saw that last year with Pulido where he was a beast and made an immediate impact. And that’s why I keep returning to how much Sporting KC’s level raises when Pulido is out there. They're well-balanced and good defensively. That’s a given. Then when Pulido plays, when he's fit, they’re a playoff team. They’re a team that can cause anybody problems, home or away.

I hope we see the best of Pulido more often this year. He’s a real joy to watch and should be recognized as one of the better No. 9s in MLS. Watch for yourself on Saturday night when they host LA (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).