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Grading Sporting KC: Pulido makes mark in home win, Ilie at centerback, and more


Sporting Kansas City shed a midweek lull after Wednesday’s loss to Houston by outclassing the Vancouver Whitecaps Wednesday for a 3-0 victory at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Mexican striker Alan Pulido scored a brace for the second time in a Sporting KC uniform.

Sporting KC’s showing, particularly in the first half, was likely the best we’ve seen from them this season. However, Vancouver may be the worst team in the league, so that had plenty to do with it, too.

Here is a closer look at Sporting KC, including player grades from the win against the Whitecaps:

Alan Pulido is finding his form

Alan Pulido started the 2021 season slowly, building up to match fitness. Pulido seemed to be a successful club-record signing early on, but missed two playoff matches to end 2020 with a knee injury.

It appears things are looking up in early 2021 for Pulido.

Pulido’s first goal came against Real Salt Lake. His two-goal haul Sunday means he’s already scored half the amount of goals he scored in 2020’s 12 appearances.

Expectations will be for Pulido to score. However, Pulido has also proven effective dropping into the midfield and allowing Sporting to play through him. Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said Pulido fits perfectly into his tactics.

“When you have a player like Alan (Pulido), your team moves with the success of a player like that,” Vermes said in a conference call with reporters. “I always talk about Alan and I talk about all the great things that he does. The bottom line is that he’s incredible for the way that we want to play. He’s incredible within the group of guys, his work ethic in the game, his hungriness to score all the time. All those things are very, very important to what we do. His quality today was very evident.”

Ilie Sanchez fills in again at centerback

Ilie Sanchez, who typically fills the No. 6 role in the Sporting KC midfield, filled in for the second straight match at centerback. At 6-foot, 170 pounds, Sanchez certainly doesn’t fit the typical centerback’s frame, but his passing ability is strong enough for him to fill in at that spot. Vermes evidently rates Sanchez well enough at centerback to choose him over Graham Smith, who started four games last season.

Sanchez looked shaky at times in Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Houston. New signing Nicolas Isimat-Mirin remains out with a hamstring injury and fellow starting centerback candidate Roberto Puncec is also working through a hamstring injury.

Sanchez spent part of last season out of favor with Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, but he’s come on strong to start 2021. He scored a header goal a week ago in a 2-1 win over Austin FC and started the past four matches.

Sporting KC Player Grades

Tim Melia (6.0) – Melia returned from injury to make his first appearance of the season. He’s an upgrade from 19-year-old John Pulskamp, but it didn’t matter much against Vancouver, as Melia hardly needed to do much work.

Luis Martins (7.5) – Martins and the rest of the team looked extremely poor Wednesday in Houston, but Martins really made up for it. His passing on the left flank led to several scoring chances, most directly Salloi’s goal.

Andreu Fontas (7) – Fontas felt like a failed signing last year, but he’s already turned in a few strong matches in 2021 and this was another one. Vancouver earned only a few clear scoring opportunities.

Ilie Sanchez (6.0) – Sanchez horrendously misplaced a pass that led to Vancouver’s best scoring chance, but otherwise had a sound showing. Sporting will hope Sanchez can move back into the midfield soon as they wait for Puncec and Isimat-Mirin to recover.

Graham Zusi (6.0) – Zusi continued his return from injury with this game. Most of Sporting KC’s attacking momentum came from the left side, but Zusi elicited a great save from Maxime Crepeau on a late run and shot in the 55th minute.

Gadi Kinda (7) – Kinda, a Designated Player, showed his prowess as he vies for more minutes in Sporting’s crowded midfield. Expect Kinda to stay in the starting lineup moving forward.

Gianluca Busio (7.0) – Much has been made of Peter Vermes’ challenge to Busio to take a larger attacking role for Sporting KC, and it’s still unclear which is his best position. Busio kept control of the midfield Sunday and allowed Pulido and Salloi the scoring chances.

Roger Espinoza (7) – Espinoza had little to worry about in the defensive midfield in this game. His connecting passes in the middle of the pitch maintained possession for Sporting.

Daniel Salloi (7.5) – Scoring chances are coming to Salloi very often these days. He scored one of them soon after missing a similar shot. Confidence is flowing for Salloi, and it should be. Salloi also drew a penalty, which Pulido scored.

Alan Pulido (8.5) – It looked like Pulido might have had an assist on Daniel Salloi’s 28th minute goal, but it was a deflection and not officially credited to him. Pulido had his handprint on this match, scoring a penalty and a precise strike from just inside the 18-yard box.

Khiry Shelton (5.5) – Shelton missed a golden scoring opportunity in the second half. He also had some poor luck, as Crepeau saved a point-blank attempt from Shelton as the Whitecaps scrambled the ball off the goal line. Most Sporting strikers are in good form now. Shelton’s the odd one out.

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