ROOKIE ACHIEVES HIS FIRST GOAL
HOMEGROWN PINEDA SCORES VS. SOUNDERS, THEN HAS OPTION PICKED UP FOR 2021
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.’’