Let’s take a look at Sporting Kansas City’s newest offensive focal piece, Alan Pulido. His stats from 2020 can be found here, as well as a high and low from the season. I echo the low being his missed time, as his full contribution to the offense doesn’t quantify as well as other players. Here we go.
Look, we all know Alan Pulido is good at soccer, but I was having trouble explaining why until I read Alan Shearer’s commentary in an article from The Athletic. Alan Shearer (lots of Alans, sorry) is the Premier League’s all-time leading goal scorer and knows a thing or two about forwards. In this article (paywall, etc.) he broke down the best strikers’ movement comes in the “second six-yard box” meaning the area in front of the goal but between the actual six-yard box and the penalty spot. Imagine if every field had a second six-yard box painted on the turf 12 yards out from the goal and that is where you will find the most prolific Center Forwards working their magic. They use a series of small, subtle, but massively influential movements that get missed in real time because the focus is on the ball. By the time we are paying attention, players like Pulido have already done their work in small movements, bursts of speed or changes of direction that leave a defense flummoxed as to their whereabouts; the rest is timely and purposeful finishing by the striker.
Goal #1: SKC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps - March 1, 2020
In what feels like an actual lifetime ago, Pulido welcomed himself to Kansas City and MLS with a goal inside 18 minutes. It’s off of a free kick, and the second angle replay shows his subtle movements:
His first movement out of the mash of Sporting players is part of the designed set piece; he’s meant to come across the defense and pull his marker out of the way, thus creating a window for Graham Zusi to aim and another runner to fill. Pulido’s man doesn’t track him since the defender sees the ball coming at him, but this poor clearance is where Pulido’s movement shines through. He vacates the scrum to the outside of Vancouver’s left back (Ali Adnan - incredible attacker, so-so defender) giving him a few yards of space to run onto a ball. Watch Pulido’s feet here as he is the first to react to the ball up in the air and beats Adnan to the loose header. A calm, looping header into the goal and Sporting are up 1-0. All of these movements are small and subtle and exist in the second six-yard box to create the opportunity for a scoring chance. Not every of these scoring chances turn into goals over the life of a season, but the best strikers never quit their movements.
Goal#2: SKC vs. Houston Dynamo - March 8, 2020
Two weeks, two goals, and two examples of movement from Pulido opening up scoring opportunities for himself via clever movement before the ball arriving. Watch Pulido’s movement as soon as Gadi Kinda settles the ball:
In a passage of play I hope to see much more of in 2021, Kinda finds himself on the ball in a transition opportunity with oodles of space in front of the Houston backline. Graham Zusi delivers another classic pinpoint switch into a dangerous area by bypassing the Defensive Midfielder for Houston. It comes off a turnover and Kinda (I can’t wait to write more about him) takes the space given right at the heart of the defense. So many times these moments wash out by indecision from both the runners and the drivers, but not so in this sequence.
Immediately, Pulido drives hard at the Left Center Back for Houston then cuts across the CB pairing to create a massive gap between LCB and Left Back. This space is immediately where Kinda goes with the ball to a collapsing Khiry Shelton. Many strikers stop after this first run, but Pulido keeps moving. He drifts wide of the Right Back who is in full-on scramble mode and completely misses Pulido (and Johnny Russell for that matter - man having two great goal scorers is fun) hovering around the back of the defense. This movement sets up the goal; if he stays central he completely misses the opportunity. If he never cuts across the defense there’s no pass on and Kinda probably dribbles harmlessly into multiple defenders or pulls the ball back. Another scoring opportunity created by Pulido and confidently buried for goal number two.
Goal #3: SKC vs. Philadelphia Union - July, 30 2020
Ah MLS is back! Honestly I didn’t hate the tournament and was quite thankful to have some soccer to watch in the doldrums of quarantine. If the league wanted to keep MiB as a sort of preseason warmup tournament or something I’d welcome it. On to the goal:
Not much analysis to be done here; Philadelphia’s weak side defender (former USMNT midfielder Alejandro Bedoya) simply didn’t mark the main goalscoring threat. That being said, it is Pulido’s cross field pass that opens up this sequence, and he follows up his pass by ambling slowly into a dangerous position. Properly lulled asleep, the Union get caught ball-watching and don’t mark the danger man, and Pulido makes them pay with a perfectly timed run and a “proper poacher’s goal”. Despite that goal, Philadelphia would win on the legs of forward Sergio Santos who blew by the slow SKC center backs (something new and different) thus ending Sporting’s run through the inaugural MLS is Back tournament.
Boy howdy was Pulido the right purchase. The confidence that a goal is coming every time he touches the ball is worth every penny, and having a rock solid pk taker is a breath of fresh air. How many other DP signings in the league have flopped or turned out mediocre results? And it’s not only the in-the-box goals, he’s got individual moments of brilliance, confident pk’s and transition goals in his bag as well. He makes Sporting’s press work seamlessly with his dribbling and link up play which turns transition moments into goal scoring opportunities for himself or others.
In the modern game, according to Shearer, “proper center forwards are too often used as Plan B” - meaning pure goal scorers are being benched in favor of connectors. Lucky for us and SKC, Alan Pulido provides it all.