Pulido injury a painful blow for Mexico's Gold Cup team but a chance for Cubo Torres

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The Chivas forward was the perfect fit for the alternate side Juan Carlos Osorio will use in the tournament and his injury leaves a gap in attack

This was Alan Pulido's tournament. It was Alan Pulido's summer. But after he suffered a broken arm in a friendly Saturday against Paraguay, it will be up to someone else to put the ball in the back of the net for Mexico at the Gold Cup.

With an alternate side participating in July's CONCACAF event, Pulido was the only clear central forward in the team and seemed perfect for the center of Mexico's three-forward system. Pulido can head in corners but also drops back and looks for the ball, playing off wingers Angel Zaldivar and Isaac Brizuela, among others, as Chivas rolled to the title.

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The injury ends all that, making it a bitter pill for Pulido and Mexico to swallow, even if the forward is confident he still has a future in the national team setup.

"I'm a bit sad because the Gold Cup was the goal I wanted. This dream is now behind me with my injury, a fracture in my right arm's humerus," he told reporters when he arrived back in Guadalajara on Sunday. "I had hoped to be able to participate and have a good showing at the tournament. Obviously, that goes away with the injury.

"At the end of the day, I'm calm because I know that I'll be returning as quickly as possible and doing what I've been working toward in Liga MX and with the national team. I'm going to be back again."

Alan Pulido Mexico Paraguay

Just 13 months ago we didn't know if we'd see Pulido again at all, much less back on the field, during a bizarre period in which the forward was kidnapped but quickly recovered after what officials called a heroic escape effort from the player.

But he ignored the distractions that have surrounded him since he broke out with Tigres in 2013 and earned a spot on the World Cup team, then forced through a transfer to Greece. He's become instrumental for Chivas, scoring 14 goals across all competitions since arriving last summer and helping the Guadalajara side to titles in the league and cup in the recently concluded Clausura.

He could've been instrumental for El Tri as well. Luis Pompilio Paez, who has been working with the Mexico side that will contest the Gold Cup while Juan Carlos Osorio is with the top group at the Confederations Cup, said the Chivas forward nearly worked his way into the top group but was set for a big role in the continental championship.

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"Having top forwards is fundamental in football," Pompilio Paez said after the team's first friendly, a 1-0 win over Ghana. "Alan is an experienced player, a payer who practically is very close to Javier [Hernandez], Raul [Jimenez], Oribe Peralta. He could’ve been at the Confederations Cup, but having four No. 9s would be difficult. This is the cup for him. We’ve had him in a lot of friendly games.

"He’s really hoping that he can give us a lot. He’s a player who looks for the ball, who gets into games and can score goals. He’s able to hold up play. And he comes in in really good form in this last tournament, being bicampeon with Chivas, a star for Chivas. That’s what we lacked (Wednesday) and we’re going to improve."

Improving will be more difficult without Pulido to lead the line, though. Mexico's forward group is very slim, with two players listed as forwards on the current squad without Pulido.

There's Angel Sepulveda, who scored two goals in the previous tournament but did get a starting nod in World Cup qualification last fall with Mexico's attacking core depleted by injury. Martin Barragan, a recently transferred attacker who scored five goals last tournament but is coming off an injury, is wearing the No. 10 shirt but plays as a forward. Mexico tried but failed to get a goal-scorer from the Confederations Cup squad like Peralta (actually, it specifically was Peralta) to play in the Gold Cup, but couldn't get clubs to agree. 

Aside from those players, there's Rodolfo Pizarro, Chivas' playmaker who will have to slightly adjust his game if he's playing beside, not behind, a No. 9. And there's Elias Hernandez, the Leon midfielder who has scored from the spot in each of Mexico's friendly matches. To have any depth, and certainly to carry out anything that resembles the rotations Osorio likes to pull off, a replacement will need to be called in.

That replacement will be Houston Dynamo forward Erick "Cubo" Torres, who sits second in MLS with 12 goals this season and made El Tri's provisional roster. While Torres didn't make the original cut, Pompilio Paez said the coaching staff considered bringing him in as one of the six replacement players allowed between the group stage and knockout stage. The injury means he'll join sooner than that.

Erick Torres Cubo Houston Dynamo

Torres has been consistent that he'd love to play for Mexico for the first time since a 2015 friendly against the United States and now will get that chance after Houston media reported Monday that the Dynamo are set for the 24-year-old to join the national team. Still, he certainly wasn't taking any joy that his chance has come because of Pulido's injury.

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"I'm sad to hear the news, I wasn't aware of that. We'll hope that it's nothing serious. He's a good friend of mine," Torres told Deporte Total after the Dynamo's 3-1 defeat to the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. "I know that I'm on the list, that I can be considered and if the coaching staff of Juan Carlos Osorio and Pompilio Paez decide that I'm an element that's able to help the national team, I'm obviously going to do it very happily and how one should represent the country.

"The most important thing is that I’m ready, I’m in good physical shape, I’m mentally prepared. You have to wait, to be patient and I hope Alan Pulido is OK."

Now it's clear that he is not. The national team could be, though, and Torres may play a role in that. The coaches have to be asking themselves if Cubo's MLS form can translate to the Gold Cup. If so, Torres will get a chance to put on the El Tri shirt, face off with defenders from El Salvador, Jamaica and Curacao, and look to bust out his preferred robot celebration in stadiums across the United States this summer.

If not, Mexico will need a different player to step up and fill the considerable void left by Pulido in the center of the pitch.

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