Alan Pulido returns, Sporting KC gets third scoreless draw of 2023, this one at Philly

·3 min read

The return of Alan Pulido and some key saves from Tim Melia were the highlights of a scoreless draw on Saturday night between Sporting KC and the Philadelphia Union. Severe weather in the Chester, Pennsylvania, area put more than an hour’s delay on the start of the match.

After a debacle of a second half in Sporting’s previous match, Peter Vermes called out his team and expected a response. So did Vermes get what he wanted?

“The intensity, the effort, the battle in the guys was top class,” Vermes said. “It was a massive point for us to be able to come in here.”

The Union hadn’t lost at home in 24 matches until last weekend.

Vermes figured the opponent would come out with intensity after that loss, and it did. But Sporting punched back and dug in for a battle.

“This wasn’t some high-level possession soccer game, with all these different counter moves from a tactical perspective; it was just straight up,” Vermes said. “You had to defend the boxes and everybody was trying to find something to ricochet off somebody or drop for somebody and hopefully steal the goal.”

Sporting KC (0-3-3) made six changes to the starting lineup after a 4-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders the previous weekend. Robert Voloder played left back, Robert Castellanos and newcomer Dany Rosero started as the center back pairing, Melia and Johnny Russell returned to the starting 11 for the first time in 2023, and Nemanja Radoja rounded out the changes, starting as the defensive midfielder.

Radoja did exit in the first half due to an injury. Vermes praised the appearances of Castellanos and Rosero, who arrived in KC from Colombia less than a week ago.

“I think that for having never played together before and Rosero coming on Sunday, his debut was, for him, something to remember,” Vermes said. “It’s never easy, and he’s being thrown into a big-time Major League Soccer match from a competitive perspective.”

Ultimately though, no return was as big as Alan Pulido’s. The Mexican striker stepped foot in a match for the first time since 2021. He didn’t look like he had been away from the game for 14 months.

“It’s amazing how wherever he gets on the field, he knows how to control the space,” Vermes said. “So this has been a long time coming.”

He continued.

“I think he’s in a really good place,” Vermes said. “It’s amazing how sharp he is already, and the fact that he was able to get 30 minutes in the game bodes well for him going forward.”

Sporting’s best chance of the first half was a free header in front of the goal that neither Rosero nor Willy Agada could get a clean header to. In the second half, Russell and Graham Zusi each put a few shots on target, but nothing too terribly threatening for Union goalkeeper Andre Blake.

Melia made a few crucial saves to keep Sporting’s third clean sheet of the 2023 season. He is now tied for eighth all-time in MLS for road clean sheets, along with Brad Guzan and Tony Meola.

It was Melia’s first appearance in MLS since July of last season, and he was quite happy to be back.

“It would’ve been even better if we could sneak away with a victory, but all in all, it was great to be back on the field,” Melia said. “The effort from the entire team was tremendous, and overall I thought it was just a very encouraging experience.”

Sporting KC returns home next Saturday when the Colorado Rapids come to Kansas City.