ROOKIE ACHIEVES HIS FIRST GOAL

HOME­GROWN PINEDA SCORES VS. SOUNDERS, THEN HAS OP­TION PICKED UP FOR 2021

Chicago Sun-Times - - FIRE BEAT - BY BRIAN SANDALOW | @bri­ansan­dalow

In March, Fire rookie Mauricio Pineda opened the MLS sea­son well. He started the Fire’s first two games and quickly showed he be­longed in the league.

Then the coro­n­avirus pan­demic hit, and Pineda’s de­but sea­son was paused. Among many other con­cerns was how the stop­page would af­fect the de­vel­op­ment of young play­ers, and Pineda ad­mit­ted he con­sid­ered that.

‘‘A lot of those thoughts kind of went through my head,’’ Pineda said this month. ‘‘Ob­vi­ously, it was nice start­ing the first two games of the sea­son, got some play­ing time in those. I’m kind of just ask­ing my­self: ‘Why does this all hap­pen now? Why did it all have to stop?’ It was go­ing so well.

‘‘But at a cer­tain time, I just de­cided to put my head down and just keep work­ing hard and be ready for when the time came.’’

Based on his per­for­mance since the Fire re­con­vened, Pineda’s work is pay­ing off.

Pineda’s game-win­ner Tues­day against the Sounders — in the Fire’s first game in the MLS Is Back tour­na­ment — was his first goal as a pro­fes­sional and an­other en­cour­ag­ing mo­ment for the 22-year-old Home­grown signee from Bol­ing­brook. Coach Raphael Wicky has praised the mid­fielder/de­fender dur­ing me­dia avail­abil­ity, and Pineda’s 30-yard vol­ley to score in a friendly against Min­nesota United showed his pure abil­ity.

On Wed­nes­day, the Fire of­fi­cially picked up Pineda’s op­tion for 2021, though that rather easy de­ci­sion wasn’t made be­cause of his per­for­mance against the Sounders. He clearly has made an im­pres­sion on Wicky, who saw Pineda’s tal­ent and work ethic in train­ing camp.

‘‘He came back the same way af­ter the pan­demic, so he’s do­ing the same thing as be­fore,’’ Wicky said Tues­day. ‘‘We are very happy to have him. That gives us a big op­tion. Ob­vi­ously, now he starts scor­ing goals, which is help­ful, as well. He just needs to keep work­ing and keep im­prov­ing. There is a good fu­ture in front of him, but the most im­por­tant thing is to keep [the] right men­tal­ity.’’

When Pineda of­fi­cially signed, it was rec­og­nized as an im­por­tant mo­ment for the Fire, who play the Earth­quakes on Sun­day in their sec­ond match in the tour­na­ment. The fran­chise had not been able to sign other highly re­garded Home­grown prospects, such as mid­fielder Cameron Lind­ley, de­fender An­drew Gut­man and goal­keeper Damian Las, and not bring­ing Pineda into the fold would have stung.

But Pineda joined the Fire on Jan. 17 af­ter four col­lege sea­sons at North Carolina, and the re­turns have been promis­ing. And it ap­pears the stop­page hasn’t stunted his growth.

‘‘I think it’s just a mat­ter of com­ing into pre­sea­son and work­ing as hard as I can,’’ Pineda said. ‘‘Dur­ing the quar­an­tine time espe­cially, I think know­ing that it was my rookie sea­son, I still kept work­ing hard, know­ing at some point we’d be back and play­ing. I had to be ready for that.’’ ✶

‘‘Dur­ing the quar­an­tine time espe­cially, I think know­ing that it was my rookie sea­son, I still kept work­ing hard, know­ing at some point we’d be back and play­ing. I had to be ready for that.’’

Mauricio Pineda

CHICAGO FIRE FC

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.