Bolingbrook's Pineda scores game-winner for Chicago Fire

For four years Chicago Fire fans wondered if the club would sign Bolingbrook's Mauricio Pineda to a homegrown contract.

Tuesday morning he showed he was worth the wait.

Pineda's first professional goal gave the Fire a 2-1 victory against the defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders in the Fire's first game at the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando. He also earned an assist on the first Fire goal.

"I felt good," said Pineda, 22, who played the last four seasons at the University of North Carolina. "I think everyone was looking forward to this game. We were all really anxious to start playing games again and I think everyone worked really hard today."

Pineda scored in the 84th minute off a corner kick from new designated player Gaston Gimenez, fighting off a defender near the far post to knock the ball past Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei.

"We all really wanted a good result today to start the tournament off and just for the league points, and I think we are all happy to do that and just happy for all the guys that they all worked so hard and you could see that on the feed. I think it all paid off and we came away with 3 points."

Pineda also played well anchoring the Fire's five-man back line.

"To be honest I didn't know much about Mauricio," first-year Fire coach Raphael Wicky said of Pineda, a highly touted prospect from the club's youth academy. "I obviously saw some video clips, but I knew he was a player that came up through the academy and then left for college. Then as soon as we started, I saw the tension; I saw the talent he has, and I saw the work ethic he puts on the field."

Pineda appears to have solidified an important role in his first pro season.

"He has I think surprised a lot of people in the preseason," Wicky said. "We are very happy about that. He came back the same way after the pandemic, so he's doing the same thing as before. ... Obviously, now he starts scoring goals, which is helpful as well."

The Fire took a 1-0 lead in the 52nd minute when new forward Robert Beric punished a Seattle mistake, scoring his second goal of the season.

The Fire played two games in March before the league suspended the regular season for the COVID-19 pandemic, including a season-opening loss at Seattle. MLS hopes to resume the regular season in August after the tournament.

Seattle's Handwalla Bwana tied the game in the 77th minute, setting up Pineda's game-winner.

The Fire's next game is at 7 p.m. Sunday against San Jose (FS1). The Fire originally was scheduled to open the tournament against expansion side Nashville SC in Group A, but the Fire moved to Group B when Nashville was sent home because sent home because several players tested positive for the coronavirus.

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