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What Alan Pulido's arrival means for Sporting Kansas City | Andrew Wiebe

Alan Pulido - Chivas - close up

Injection of capital, indeed.

Peter Vermes said Sporting Kansas City was going to spend big this window, and the club’s owners backed up those words on Tuesday, more than doubling their all-time transfer spend by dropping a reported $9.5 million on Mexico and Chivas de Guadalajara striker Alan Pulido.

Yeah, that’s a big swing by Sporting. It’s a statement of intent. They’re not content to sit around and hope Peter Vermes can moneyball his way to the top of the Western Conference, which to be fair he did just two years ago. Kansas City saw the cash flying around MLS – only two (Sapong, Castellanos) of the top 20 scorers in MLS last year made less than the maximum budget charge – and decided they needed to join the arms race to keep pace.

They’re getting a Golden Boot winner for their money. Pulido just led Liga MX with 12 goals in 18 games during the Apertura. Chivas missed the playoffs, but he’s won plenty during his career (two Liga MX and Copa MX titles, Concacaf Champions League and a league championship in Greece). His days with El Tri are probably behind him, but nobody can take away those 13 caps, five goals and trips to the 2011 Copa America and the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Let’s get to it. What does this move mean for SKC, Major League Soccer and 2020?

What kind of player is Alan Pulido? How does he change Sporting KC?

I’m not going to lie to you. I didn’t watch Chivas or Pulido at all in the Apertura other than the SuperClasico against Club America in September. Pulido got a goal in that game, a 4-1 loss. My thoughts here are basically an amalgamation of all the opinions I gathered from both sides of the border this afternoon as the move gained steam.

We’ll start with this context: Raul Ruidiaz arrived in MLS as a Liga MX scoring champion. How’s that gone for the Sounders?

According to the folks I talked to and his goal record, Pulido isn’t quite the pure goalscorer that Ruidiaz was in Mexico and has proven to be in MLS. He’s comfortable as a No. 9, but he can also play in a two-striker system or a little wider in a 4-3-3. Consensus among those I talked to was that he doesn’t have an elite skill, rather he’s above average across the board with a knack for making plays in the final third, for himself or others. He’s technical. He’s sneaky quick. He’s a solid finisher, but not one known for doing it with his head.

Sounds like a snug fit for a team that wants to create chances from possession and off-the-ball movement and was rampant in 2018 when the attack was a sum-of-all-parts approach that featured a forward adept at combining with Johnny Russell, Gerso, Daniel Salloi and Felipe Gutierrez and pulling defenders out of position with his runs.

Oh, by the way, that forward I’m talking about – Khiry Shelton – is back in Kansas City, too. We very well could see Vermes go away from the 4-3-3/4-5-1 he’s used for the last decade. Shelton and Pulido seem like potentially complementary partners in a two-forward setup. Pulido could play wide left, in a Wondo-esque, goal-poaching role, in the 4-3-3, too.

Preseason will be interesting.

This week, Sporting gained flexibility and, most importantly, top-tier talent up top. They’ve got Erik Hurtado, too, in case the game calls for pace and brute force. Vermes has options now, and his newest piece has the potential to be a big-time goalscorer in MLS.

Who are Pulido’s Liga MX-to-MLS comparables?

Hat tip to @GlassCityFC on Twitter, who did this first – I double checked the numbers and added Pulido and Quintero. As you may have heard, Canadian international striker Lucas Cavallini (0.38 goals per 90 for Puebla) could be the next player to add to this data set. Everybody gets a Liga MX striker!

To keep it simple – deadlines, amirite? – these numbers are pulled from league games only. No Copa MX, U.S. Open Cup, Concacaf Champions League here.

Raul Ruidiaz (Seattle Sounders)

  • Age: 29 (30 in July)
  • Reported Transfer Fee: $7M (2nd in club history to Clint Dempsey)
  • MLS: 21 G, 4 A in 36 games (2,891 minutes) … 7 G, 4 A in 6 career playoff games
  • Goals per 90 (Liga MX/MLS): 0.61 / 0.65 (.73 including playoffs)

Darwin Quintero (Houston Dynamo)

  • Age: 32 (33 in September)
  • Reported Transfer Fee: $200,000
  • MLS: 21 G, 20 A in 57 games (4,604 minutes)
  • Goals per 90 (Liga MX/MLS): 0.32 / 0.41

Brian Fernandez (Portland Timbers, no longer with the club)

  • Age: 24 (25 in September)
  • Reported Transfer Fee: $10-12M from Necaxa (club record)
  • MLS: 11 G, 1 A in 19 games (1,411 minutes)
  • Goals per 90 (Liga MX/MLS): 0.65 / 0.70

Gustavo Bou (New England Revolution)

  • Age: 29 (30 in February)
  • Reported Transfer Fee: $7M from Club Tijuana (club record)
  • MLS: 9 G, 2 A in 14 games (1,155 minutes)
  • Goals per 90 (Liga MX/MLS): 0.45 / 0.70

Alan Pulido (Sporting)

  • Age: 28 (29 in March)
  • Reported Transfer Fee: $9.5M from Chivas Guadalajara (club record)
  • Goals per 90 (Liga MX/MLS): 0.41 / ???

My takeaway, which I think is pretty obvious but worth noting: goals in Liga MX translate to MLS. In fact, all five of these players saw an uptick in their goals-per-90 average. It’s no guarantee, but very possible, that Pulido will outperform his Liga MX average, too.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Pulido plays 2,700 minutes (30 full games) in 2020. If he holds steady at 0.41 goals/90, Sporting would get somewhere between 12 and 13 goals next season. Good not great return. But what if he hit 0.50 (15 goals) or 0.60 (18 goals) goals per 90? That’s the sort of return you pay millions of dollars for.

Did Sporting overpay?

At close to eight figures, if the reports are true, I’m comfortable saying yes. I’ve also been told by folks I trust that the fee was closer to $6 million, which is much more reasonable given Pulido’s age and goalscoring record. The truth is probably somewhere between those two numbers. Regardless, Vermes needed a proven commodity. You’ve got to pay for those.

This is not a buy-now-sell-later situation. This is an investment in winning and winning now. Kansas City fell flat in 2019, but fortunes change quickly in MLS. They’ve got Pulido, Shelton and Croatian center back Roberto Puncec in the fold already this offseason. They’ve got the makings of team that could charge right back to the top of the Western Conference.

Sporting said they’d spend big, and they did it, no matter where the fee ended up. They made a large wager on Pulido, but it’s not a guarantee. Time to find out if they spent all that money on the right player.