BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chicago Fire midfielder Victor Pineda knew that playing in this past Saturday's Reserve League game, just a day after he stepped off of a plane from Turkey, might not be the best decision.
But after playing only 11 minutes in the U-20 World Cup in a listless group stage exit for the United States, Pineda felt the itch to get back onto the field. So he suited up and played 45 minutes in an eventual 2-1 loss to the USL PRO's Charlotte Eagles, even though his legs were tired and his body was jet-lagged.
“[The World Cup] was pretty disappointing just because of the playing time, but that's not something that I could have controlled,” Pineda said. “When I came back, I really wanted to play. But at the end, I thought it maybe wasn't my smartest decision just because it was hard for me to play, just heavy legs.”
WATCH: Checking in with Pineda (March '13)
Timing just hasn't been Pineda's friend during the last year.
Fire manager Frank Klopas proclaimed during the 2012 preseason that Chicago's first Homegrown player signing would likely make his debut that season. That moment never came as the Fire pushed for a playoff spot with veterans at every midfield position. Pineda did make the gameday roster twice late in the season – but then he tore his meniscus, which ended his campaign.
The injury also kept him out of preseason, when he might have been in the mix to fill the Fire's vacant left midfield spot.
Last year, Pineda was locked in as a starter for the US U-20s. But because of the injury, he was left off of the World Cup qualifying squad and had to claw his way back into the mix to make the trip to Turkey.
“I think I gave it my all to get back from the injury as fast as I could, just training as hard as I could,” Pineda said. “Every time I got to play, I felt pretty good about how I was playing.”
Even after the disappointing trip, teammate Patrick Nyarko has seen something different from Pineda since he came back – something the fans might get to see on Wednesday against San Jose (8:30 pm ET; MLS Live).
“Talking to him, the way he talks is different,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com. “He's gained that confidence … It's like, 'I can play, I want to play, I can play anywhere.' I'm 100 percent certain he's ready to step in and contribute to this team. He's taken long strides, and I think this is the time.”
But the question remains whether the Fire can make room for Pineda in a crowded midfield. He's played both on the outside and in a holding role in reserve and exhibition games for the team, yet Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere have each hit their stride in the last few weeks. Daniel Paladini and Alex have also made strong cases for playing time, and Chicago management has made it clear that it will pursue another offensive difference-maker during the transfer window.
Nonetheless, the 20-year-old said he can't worry about making his debut or cracking the gameday roster.
“Just keep on working on the things I can control. I can't control whether they're going to play me or not,” Pineda said. “I feel pretty confident, especially after this trip. Just playing games in general just gives me confidence. I feel like every time I come back from the national team I feel better about myself.”
Anthony Zilis covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com.