INDIANAPOLIS -- When he signed in 2010 at age 17 as the Chicago Fire's first homegrown player, Victor Pineda looked destined for great things.
That career is still possible, but it will have to restart here, 183 miles to the southeast of Toyota Park.
The Fire last month loaned the 21-year-old midfielder to expansion Indy Eleven of the second-division North American Soccer League until the end of the season with the goal of getting him the playing time he didn't see with the Fire's first team.
So while the Fire (3-4-11, 20 points) started the second half of its Major League Soccer season Saturday night with yet another draw -- 1-1 after a disputed hand-ball call led to a 90th-minute penalty-kick goal for the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park -- Pineda played 73 minutes in the center of the Indy Eleven midfield in a 2-1 defeat to the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Tampa Bay scored the game-winning goal in the 89th minute, a heartbreaking end to match the one the Fire endured an hour later.
"It's been great," Pineda said of the move, if not the game's result. "I think the fans and everyone have been supporting the team and have welcomed me in the best way possible, and I feel really comfortable right now."
The Bolingbrook native didn't see action with the Fire's first team until this season, when he finally earned a handful of minutes.
That makes it easy now to second-guess going pro at such a young age, especially when first-year homegrown players Harry Shipp and Chris Ritter are having success with the Fire after finishing college.
"Looking at it now it's hard to say because I didn't participate, and I think maybe it's affecting me a little bit now, but it all happens for a reason," Pineda said. "I think mentally I'm way stronger just in getting games and being able to train through all that. I think I'm in the right place."
Saturday's match wasn't the best of the three Pineda has played for Indy. He worked hard but didn't see much of the ball, struggling to find his role playing in front of midfield master Kleberson, who played for Brazil in the 2010 World Cup and scored Indy's goal Saturday with a 25-yard blast.
"He's blending in nicely in our midfield," said Indy Eleven coach Juergen Sommer, a former U.S. national team goalkeeper. "Obviously, we know something about him from his team with the (youth) national team, the Chicago Fire.
"He's a very fluid midfielder, great with the ball at his feet. A little bit difficult tonight for him. His first time at home, getting used to this turf was a little bit difficult."
Though Sommer said he is happy to have Pineda in Indianapolis, Fire coach Frank Yallop sounds noncommittal but hopeful about Pineda's return to the Fire.
But when the question is put to Pineda, does he hope to return to the Fire despite a difficult four years with the club, the answer comes quickly: "Of course."
This is just a detour, he hopes.
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