Stopping Sporting KC’s Alan Pulido key for Vancouver's Round of 16 game plan

Alan Pulido - Sporting Kansas City - hands up

As the Vancouver Whitecaps approach their Round of 16 match Sunday against Sporting Kansas City (11 pm ET | FS1, TUDN, FOX Deportes; TSN, TVAS in Canada), head coach Marc Dos Santos is keenly aware of the threat Alan Pulido will pose.

The Designated Player has three goals and four assists through his first five MLS games, justifying SKC ownership dishing out a club-record transfer fee. 

“He represents a big awareness that we have to have,” Dos Santos said in the pregame press conference. “Alan is a player that links well, a player that is aggressive attacking the box, very aware of his movement. He has an instinct for the goal inside the 18 and he’s a player who helps the team in the first phase of pressure. So we’re all aware of that, but I think our center backs are going to be aware and ready for it.”

Dos Santos added that game-planning for Pulido also means limiting his service, with SKC’s wingers and midfield engine both key to their attack. That depth is reflected in Pulido’s own pregame remarks, with the Mexican No. 9 integrating seamlessly into Peter Vermes’ system.

“I’m a forward and forwards live on goals, but here at Sporting I have another job. I’ve scored goals and given assists,” Pulido said. “When the team is attacking, I try to be in the box because I know I’m dangerous there and I can hurt the opponent. But when we’re [building up] I try to support the team and that’s why at times I’m a forward, or I can go look for the ball to help the team in buildup. And it’s worked. Peter has given me the confidence to do this.”

Look no further than Sporting’s only loss in Group D, a 2-1 setback against Minnesota United before two wins powered them atop the group. Pulido executed a beautiful midfield flick past Michael Boxall, setting up Khiry Shelton’s near-post finish.  

Pulido detailed that he cherishes being a team player, using his intuition to find dangerous spaces. He also has aspirations to reenter the El Tri mix with 13 caps to date, his last during a November 2018 friendly against Argentina. He hopes that more positive MLS performances draw the attention of Tata Martino, the former Atlanta United head coach.

“I put it in my mind that if I continue to do things well I’m a step away from being able to do it,” Pulido said. “My dream is to be able to go to another World Cup and not just go, but to play. That’s the mentality I have. It’s on me to be able to do it.” 

The next chance, of course, comes against a Whitecaps team that squeaked into the Round of 16 with a third-place finish in Group B (1-2 record). But Vancouver’s also going to be confident after last Thursday's 2-0 win over Chicago Fire FC. Pulido’s not blinking an eye at the challenge – if anything he’s showing a striker’s killer instinct.

“We have to be concentrated and come out like it’s the last game we’re playing in our lives,” Pulido said.