This past weekend against Real Salt Lake, Alan Pulido returned to the field for the first time in eight weeks and made his first start in 11 weeks. For the second year in a row, Sporting Kansas City’s most expensive transfer in club history didn’t play down the stretch and was fighting for fitness to be ready for the club’s playoff run. The question that myself and some fans have asked is whether Pulido’s contribution to the team has been worth the price that Kansas City paid to acquire him from Chivas Guadalajara ahead of the 2020 season.
My initial reaction to this question was that when Pulido has been on the field for KC, he’s absolutely been worth the price that KC paid to acquire him. The problem though comes into play with the fact that in my opinion, Pulido hadn’t been available enough for Sporting either through national team call ups or injuries. So, what I set out to do, as I like to do regularly, is I went to the numbers and took a look at Pulido’s contributions to Kansas City over the past two seasons to see if my assumptions about Pulido were true. What follows are my conclusions from this little bit of research.
Sporting KC announced the signing of Pulido on a four-year contract from Chivas on December 10,2019 in what was reported as a club record transfer fee, reported to be around $9.5 million. After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010, it was seen as a signal of intent from the Sporting Club ownership that they were looking for a quick return to the playoffs and competing to win another MLS Cup.
Before getting into the numbers, first a look at what has caused Pulido to miss time with Kansas City during his first two years.
The 2020 season started with very good returns for Pulido and KC as Pulido had two goals and an assist in two wins as Sporting defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 and the Houston Dynamo 4-0 before the COVID pandemic shut down MLS and the rest of the world. Upon returning to play, Pulido was a contributor still for Sporting as the MLS season was adjusted for the changes in the world at the time. Come early October, national teams were back to having international friendlies and Pulido as part of the squad for the Mexican national team was called up. Ahead of those call ups though Pulido missed most of September with an injury that kept him out until the international break. He returned just ahead of a pair of October friendlies. When he returned from international duty, he’d picked up an injury that limited his time ahead of the end of the regular season and further international call ups. Pulido picked up another injury in training in early November that caused him to miss the rest of the season, including the playoffs. At the time of the playoffs Peter Vermes said that Pulido was day to day, and after Sporting’s 3-0 loss to Minnesota United in the playoffs, Vermes said that Pulido would have played in the conference final if Kansas City had happened to advance.
We found out at yesterday’s press conference that Pulido was fighting through injury issues throughout the entire 2021 season. Ahead of this year’s Gold Cup, Pulido missed time because he had to get stitches in the top of his foot after a challenge. In October, Pulido had surgery on his knee that took him out for the rest of the regular season. By that point it’d been almost a month since Pulido had started a game for KC, last starting on September 11th. He made two more substitution appearances before having the surgery. Pulido missed the final six games of the regular season and was an unused sub in KC’s playoff win over the Vancouver Whitecaps before returning to start against Salt Lake.
Injuries are something that you can’t get away from in soccer, all players at one point or another are going to miss time with injuries. For KC with Pulido though those injuries have happened at very inopportune times, late in the season, in the final run to the playoffs.
National team call ups
When you sign a player who is part of a national team’s regular call ups, you’re going to be losing that player off and on throughout the year during international windows. MLS playing during many of those international windows don’t help those situations. But when Sporting signed Pulido, it came with the expectation that Mexico may call him up to be with the national team. And Mexico did, I mentioned previously that in 2020 when national teams resumed playing Pulido had been called up causing him to miss a handful of games as MLS continued to work to get games in.
This year has seen a lot more national team activity with World Cup qualifiers, CONCACAF Nations League Finals moved from 2020, the Gold Cup, and friendlies. He was called up for friendlies in March but didn’t appear for Mexico. Pulido had a busy summer with the Mexican national team, being called in for both the Nations League Finals and for the Gold Cup. These games took Pulido out of competition for KC for a game in June and the entire month of July. In terms of game play though Pulido didn’t see a lot of action, playing in just five of the twelve games and playing just 135 minutes in those five games. Since the Gold Cup, Pulido hasn’t been in the squad for Mexico for any of their World Cup qualifiers in the later quarter of this year.
Being recognized and called up by your country for international duty is an important thing for most soccer players, and something that I’ll never fault a player for wanting to go do. Until or unless MLS takes a break during the international windows or for these tournaments, players like Pulido will continue to miss time with their club teams. It’s a frustrating part of MLS, but it’s going to remain until something changes.
So now that we know why Pulido has been missing time, let’s take a look at exactly how much time he’s missed during his time with Sporting Kansas City. In 2020, Sporting played twenty-one league games, played two games in the MLS is Back Tournament Knock Out Round, and two games in the playoffs that year. With 90 minutes in all of those games, plus another 30 minutes in KC’s shootout win over the San Jose Earthquakes in the playoffs, KC played 2,280 minutes of soccer in 2020. Of that time, Pulido played in 1,142 minutes across all competitions. So, in all competitions in 2020 Pulido played two minutes over half of all minutes KC played that season. In league play, Pulido’s 962 minutes was almost 51% of KC’s total minutes played.
In 2021 KC played their full thirty-four game season, one Leagues Cup game, and two playoff games, a total of 3,330 available minutes to play. Pulido’s total minutes in 2021 was 1,525 minutes played. That comes to Pulido having played just 45.8% of the available minutes for Kansas City in 2021. In league play specifically, Pulido played 1,451 minutes for KC, but that’s still below 50% of the available minutes, just 47.4% of the available minutes this past league season.
So over Pulido’s two seasons in KC, he has played 2,413 minutes across all competitions for KC of a possible 4,950 minutes. That leaves him having played just 48.7% of available minutes for Kansas City. No one is expecting Pulido to be at 100% of available minutes in any one season, that’d be unattainable and given fans comments throughout the year about Peter Vermes’ lack of substitutions would likely lead to more frustration among fans waiting for Pulido to get hurt. At the same time, given the amount of money that KC has spent to acquire and pay Pulido fans have every right to be frustrated with the lack of time Pulido has seen on the field over his two seasons in KC. That’s especially true when you break down his contributions when he is on the field.
Goals and assists
Over Pulido’s time in KC, he has scored fourteen goals and added eight assists in league play in his limited minutes. Add in his goal in the knockout round of the MLS is Back Tournament and it’s 15/8 over a total of thirty-six games played. Twenty-three goal contributions in thirty-six games in a number that will certainly impress fans and breaking it down further helps to prove my original point.
In the 2020 season over his 962 minutes, Pulido averaged .56 goals per 90 minutes, over a goal every other game. Add in his assists per 90 minutes of .47 and he averaged 1.03 goals or assists for every 90 minutes he played for Kansas City; the contributions were certainly there for Pulido in 2020. His totals did fall off a little bit in 2021 as he averaged just under .5 goals per 90 minutes. The big drop though was in assists per 90 minutes where he averaged .19 assists per 90 minutes. He averaged .68 goals/assists per 90 minutes over the course of the season.
Looking at it from another angle, in 2020, Pulido averaged a goal every 160 minutes in league play in 2020 and an assist every 192 minutes. He averaged a goal or an assist every 87 minutes over the course of the shortened 2020 season. In 2021, as pointed out above was down, but still averaged a goal every 181 minutes for KC. The assist number drops to one every 484 minutes and his goals or assists total was one every 132 minutes in the 2021 season.
For comparisons to this season, in league play Daniel Salloi scored sixteen goals in 2,454 minutes played and Johnny Russell scored 15 in 2,222 minutes, that’s a goal every 153 minutes for Salloi and one every 148 minutes for Russell this season. Sure, it’s not a fair comparison, because if Pulido plays similar minutes to those two, one of their goal totals is likely to go down, but if Pulido plays somewhere around their minute total retaining his goal scoring average, Pulido would have scored thirteen goals, five more than the eight he ended the season with.
Overall, during his time in KC, Pulido has averaged over a goal every other game, averaging a goal every 172 minutes played in league play. He’s averaged an assist every 302 minutes over his two seasons. Put both goals and assists together and Pulido is averaging a goal or an assist every 110 minutes for the club over his two seasons.
So, after looking at the numbers, my initial thoughts would seem to be correct, when Pulido is on the field, he is absolutely an asset to the club and worth the price that Sporting paid to acquire him. The problem is that so far Pulido hasn’t been available enough for the club. He’s played less than 50% of the available minutes KC has played over his two seasons so far with the club. The production is certainly there for Pulido, there’s not really a way you can argue that when he’s averaging over a goal or an assist every 90 minutes for the club. Sporting just needs to start getting closer to Pulido playing 70% to 80% of the available minutes for the club. There are still two years left on Pulido’s contract, and with him seeming to be sliding down the pecking order with the Mexican national team maybe he provide further contributions in 2023 and 2024.