Sporting Kansas City's 2022 season got off to a nightmare start before even kicking the ball around.
In January, the club announced that star forward Alan Pulido needed season-ending knee surgery. That same month, fellow Designated Player Gadi Kinda also needed knee surgery and would miss some time. Recovery didn't go as planned, the injury wasn't corrected, so "some time" turned into the entire season.
Two of SKC's three DPs played zero minutes. In MLS, that's tough to recover from, and SKC fell way down below the Audi MLS Cup Playoff line and couldn't recover even as they found form at the end of the season. Looking forward to 2023, Pulido and Kinda are ready to bounce back.
There had been some questions regarding Pulido's future, as the club-record signing enters the final year of his contract, but he says he'll be back, absolutely.
“Yes," Pulido told media when asked if he planned to be at SKC in 2023. "I have a contract and I’m very happy here. I’m very focused on Sporting, I want to score a lot of goals and help the team get to first place.”
Pulido, who turns 32 at the beginning of next season, has played in just 33 of 89 eligible games since he signed with SKC ahead of the 2020 season due to injury. He has 14 goals and eight assists and had generally looked every bit of a DP center forward when he's been available. Kinda, who turns 29 in March, has 11 goals and 12 assists in 44 MLS appearances.
“I thought I was going to be back this year, then I felt a lot of pain," Kinda said. "It was very hard for me, I was training then couldn’t play. But this is life. Injuries are part of the game.”
The plan is for both players to be back in full training by the start of preseason and have a full camp before opening day, though both players cautioned numerous times that they wouldn't push it if it's not right so not to miss more time.
“I want to play every match next year because I lost this year," Pulido said. "That’s my main focus.”
The more competition, the better
Pulido and Kinda will return to the field with a few new teammates, as summer signings William Agada and Erik Thommy helped stabilize the group and end the season on a run of 6W-1L-2D heading into Decision Day.
“They’re very good players," Kinda said. "I want to come back and play with them, it’s good to play with very good players. It’s easy. I think next season is going to be a very good season.”
Some would argue "very good" is an understatement, especially considering Agada. The 23-year-old Nigerian striker has eight goals in 11 league appearances since joining from Israeli side Hapoel Jerusalem in late June. While his numbers aren't quite as eye-popping (3g/1a in 11 games), Thommy has also become a mainstay in head coach Peter Vermes' formation.
This suggests that neither Pulido nor Kinda will stroll their way back into a starting job come next season.
For the Mexican, that's welcome news.
“I’m very grateful to play on a team with talented players and high-level competition," Pulido said.
"Competition brings out the best in me and everyone. We’ll have an even better season, I’ll continue to fight for my spot.”