Fire youngster Pineda making his case for playing time

Victor Pineda and Kellen Gulley

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Chicago Fire

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Teammates and coaches always knew Chicago Fire midfielder Victor Pineda’s time would come.

But before Marco Pappa made his sudden departure to Heerenveen of the Dutch Eredivisie last week, the Guatemalan told his 19-year-old teammate that time may come sooner than he originally thought.

“Right before he left, he told me to keep working, because if he left, it opens up a spot,” Pineda told MLSsoccer.com. “I’ve got to start working harder right now.”

Pineda (above, left, with fellow Fire Homegrown Kellen Gulley) has been lauded for his marked improvement in his second full season with the club.

The Homegrown player spent time with Fire academy teams this summer, made several appearances for the Fire reserve team, and represented the United States Under-20 national team in the Milk Cup, when he was coached by former US midfielder Tab Ramos.

On Sunday, Pineda made the bench with the full squad for the first time this season in the Fire’s 3-1 win over Houston. His confidence, teammate Logan Pause said, is a huge reason Pineda has made the leap from a timid kid to a legitimate professional.

“Part of the confidence comes from a bigger picture,” Pause told MLSsoccer.com. “I try to keep him reminded that he’s not going to start tomorrow, and he’s got to continue to plug away, and he’s got to continue to work every day. I’ve got every bit of confidence that he could start tomorrow. There’s going to be a time when he’s an integral part of this team.”

With Pappa’s departure and Patrick Nyarko’s constant struggle with injuries, it’s looking more and more likely that Pineda will make his MLS debut this season. Nyarko has full confidence that his young teammate is ready to make the leap.

“In training, he’s unbelievable,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com. “Everyone notices it. You can ask anyone. I’m not trying to exaggerate. He’s come so far. He’s learned a lot. He’s been patient, and now his identity is coming out. We know what he can do. He’s incredibly skillful on the ball.”

Pineda will get a chance to show his improved skills on Saturday, when coach Frank Klopas said he will play in the Fire’s friendly at Toyota Park against Mexican Primera División side Santos Laguna.

“He just needs games,” Klopas said. “Physically, I think he needed to get stronger, which he has. He was a fragile, young kid. He needed to develop. He’s filling in, he’s growing. Obviously, tactically, [he’s improving] his ability without the ball to be a two-way player.”

Pineda has added strength this year, due to one-on-one work with strength and conditioning coordinator Tony Jouaux, so he thinks he’s ready for the physicality of MLS.

Klopas has given Pineda every indication that he thinks he’s ready, too.

“He’s encouraged me a lot more in the last two weeks to try to make a push toward the end of the season,” Pineda said. “He thinks with all of the people gone, that I’m an important player for the 18. I would imagine he wants me to get some playing time here toward the end of the season. It’s all up to me, I guess.”