Fast forward two years and Kansas City may be forced to hope they didn't need that final striking piece as much as they thought.
With the 30-year-old soon undergoing what is likely season-ending knee surgery before the 2022 campaign begins, SKC's avenues to find a replacement are limited. Or at least that was the consensus on the latest edition of Extratime from MLSsoccer.com's Tom Bogert and Sporting KC sideline reporter Aly Trost.
A major reason, Bogert told host Andrew Wiebe, is the club will only receive a small measure of salary cap relief if and when they place Pulido on the season-ending injury list.
"The finality of that would open up his international roster spot, it would open up a senior roster spot," Bogert said of the club-record transfer from Liga MX's Chivas. "(But) it would not open a DP roster spot, and I think the cap relief would only be the senior minimum, so an extra $110,000."
That might not be such a big deal if Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell can replicate their 2021 campaigns out on the wings of a front three that – with Pulido battling knee issues much of last season – often featured Khiry Shelton in the middle.
"I think best-case scenario is that you’re able to go out and sign a good replacement, backup, someone who can maybe split some time with Khiry Shelton," Trost said. "Khiry Shelton alongside Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell has been a pretty good solution up top for Sporting Kansas City, if you have Salloi and Russell producing at the rate they did last season."
As for whether there was any other alternative to the procedure to repair a left-knee injury that hampered Pulido throughout 2021, Trost said no option was a good one.
"If he had delayed the surgery at all, he probably would’ve looked exactly the same as last season," Trost said. "So this is something that, while it’s tough for the fans, it’s tough for the club, it’s the best possible case scenario for Alan Pulido if he wants to get the most out of this next part of his career as he enters his 30s."
Salloi's 16 goals and Russell's 15 were both career highs, either in MLS or in any previous league campaign.
If manager and sporting director Peter Vermes doesn't want to count on both halves of that tandem duplicating their 2021 virtuosity, the most likely avenue to add a splashier center forward replacement might be through the league's U22 Initiative.
Wiebe even teased the idea of bringing out-of-form US men's national team striker Josh Sargent back from Norwich City, just a few hours from where he grew up in suburban St. Louis. Bogert doesn't think that's likely.
"I love the idea, but to be eligible for the U22 Initiative, you need to be making under the max budget (charge)," which is just above $600,000, Bogert said. "I would like to speak this into existence, but yeah, unlikely."
For more Extratime analysis, check out the latest episode here.