KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Alan Pulido feels ready — ready to be back on the field, ready to score goals again, ready to provide a boost to a Sporting Kansas City club that’s stuck by him through recent injuries.
“I definitely feel like a lion in a cage ready to go back out on the pitch and be able to help my team out in any way that I can,” Pulido said.
Teammates can sense it, too.
“Any player that’s coming back from being out a whole season, it’s exactly what you said,” forward Khiry Shelton said. “It’s like being caged up. He has this energy and he’s smiling, because he’s back to doing what he loves the most. It’s so fun to see.”
Pulido, the most-expensive signing in club history, scored six goals with five assists in 12 matches during his debut season with Sporting KC in 2020.
He added another eight goals with three assists in 21 matches in 2021, but picked up a knee injury that required surgery in January 2022 and cost him all of last season.
When healthy, Pulido has shown the elite qualities that once made him the Liga MX scoring leader, but Sporting KC hasn’t seen a fully healthy Pulido often enough.
“Obviously, Alan’s a world-class talent,” right back Graham Zusi said. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen an injured Alan. We saw some really, really incredible stuff, but he was injured during that.”
Pulido has been training in full with Sporting KC all month and he said he’s “in the final stages” of his comeback, estimating that he’s a week or two away from returning.
“Seeing the way he did his rehab and recovery from this injury, you can see that he’s really determined to be back in a really bad way, but in a good way, if you catch my drift,” Zusi said. “He’s very motivated to be back on the field and, hopefully for him, he’s back feeling really good without any pain or injury.”
Even in limited action, Pulido clearly showed himself to be one of the best pure strikers in Sporting KC history, making him a tantalizing addition to an attack that’s generated a league-high 58 shots and MLS-best 26 shots on goal but has yet to find the back of the net three games into the 2023 season.
“We’re seeing him more and more in training now and you’re seeing Alan back,” Zusi said. “So, it’s exciting for us, it’s exciting for him and I’m happy for him that he seems to be in a really good spot.”
Despite offseason rumors, Pulido said he always planned to return to Sporting KC for the 2023 season, his last under contract with the club.
“There’s always going to be rumors when you’re one year out from your contract ending, but I really just focused on rehabilitating my injury and giving everything back to this club,” Pulido said. “They’ve supported me throughout the whole process of it and I’m just ready to get back on the pitch and bring joy to this club again.”
Sporting KC has some of the same talent up top — Shelton along with wingers Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi — as when Pulido last played, but the club also added a new Designated Player in midfielder Erik Thommy and depth at striker in Willy Agada.
“This is the deepest squad we’ve had, and it’s exciting,” Shelton said. “We have to play a lot of games this year, so it’s perfect.”
Pulido called Thommy and Agada “great additions,” adding that he’s excited to get into the mix and establish a role with the team.
“I’ve been on teams before with large numbers of attacking players,” Pulido said. “I think it helps build that competitive drive and motivates you as a player to not sit back, not relax and to give your best every time.”
Sporting KC always puts its best foot forward for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the CONCACAF Leagues Cup debuts this summer, meaning there won’t be any shortage of minutes to go around.
“You look at the attacking corps and it’s a scary group to go up against,” Zusi said. “But that’s a good problem to have, for sure, because these seasons are long and we’ve got a ton of games this year, a lot of competition, and you’re going to need every guy on the roster.”