Centennial: An Inside Look at Mauricio’s Pineda 100th Career Appearance 

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Mauricio Pineda is set to make his 100th MLS regular season appearance as a member of Chicago Fire FC.  

For Pineda, he’s approaching it as any other game. Even though it really isn’t just any other game.  

Reaching 100 matches played is an impressive feat - only made more impressive by the significance it has for the entire franchise.  

With an appearance in tonight’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, Pineda will not only reach the centennial mark, but he will also be the first Chicago Fire Homegrown player to accomplish the feat. 

Pineda’s beginnings are rooted within the Chicago Fire Academy, where as a youngster learning to love the game of soccer, he saw his older brother sign the very first Homegrown deal in franchise history. 

“It was great - we would actually come watch him train with the first team.” Pineda mentioned with a smile. “It was great to see him out there. He's always been a role model for me even before that.” 

As he got older, the Chicago native rose through the ranks of the Academy, making appearances in several age groups and even claiming a title in his tenure.  

Pineda was a key part of the U-18 team that claimed the 2015 U.S. Soccer Development Academy National Championship in what was the Club’s second time winning the championship - and first in that age group.

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Regardless of the hardware he earned with the Academy, Pineda always credits the people around him for turning him into the player he is today. 

“Larry Sutherland was my coach pretty much throughout my whole time with the Academy,” Pineda mentions. “Obviously there's a lot of people involved that I'm thankful for throughout my academy career and going into my college career.” 

His efforts wouldn’t go unnoticed as it earned him international call-ups for both the U18 and U19 U.S. Youth National Team - where he participated in domestic camps in the hopes of representing his country in international play. 

Not long after, the midfielder would leave the Windy City and commit to the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, where he represented the Tar Heels in NCAA Division I play.  

Immediately, Pineda impressed. 

Heading into his freshman season, Pineda was a four-star recruit and ranked the No. 5 player in his class. His freshman season was remarkable. He notched a hat-trick against UNC-Asheville and earned All-ACC Freshman Team honors after appearing in every game of the season. 

After four seasons in Chapel Hill, Pineda departed North Carolina with two All-ACC First Team selections, All-American honors, and 80 appearances for the boys wearing baby blue.  

After four years away from Chicago, it was only fitting that he would return to the city where it all started. 

On January 17, 2020, Pineda signed a Homegrown deal with Chicago Fire FC. Signing with the intention of making an instant impact, Pineda joined the Fire and earned his dream of playing for his boyhood Club - the same Club his brother had played for years prior.

Less than two months later, Pineda would make his Major League Soccer debut.  

On March 1, 2020, the Fire opened their campaign with a road match against the defending champion Seattle Sounders. The rookie midfielder/defender would log a full 90-minute shift in what was his first glimpse of professional soccer. 

“I think the one thing that I remember from my debut was that the crowd and atmosphere was amazing in Seattle.” Pineda said. “So, it was a great game to play in and it was great to get my debut in. So that part was really exciting.” 

For Pineda, he credits the veteran presence of the locker room for helping calm his nerves prior to making his debut in the navy and red. 

“I remember CJ Sapong was here at the time and he told me to just embrace the moment and embrace walking out into that stadium.” Pineda said with a smile. “And for whatever reason, I always remember that right before the game when he told me that and I think that was a moment that I really appreciated and really embraced. Throughout my career, I just take in those moments, taking in the greatness and the happiness that every game gives you.”

But the rest of the season would have to wait. 

The Fire - along with every sports team in the world - would have their seasons postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Putting every game, every sport, and the entire world on halt. 

It wasn’t until the MLS is Back tournament that Pineda’s season - as well as Chicago’s - would resume.  

In the team’s first game back, Pineda had a performance to remember.  

Back in the starting lineup, Pineda and the Fire faced the Seattle Sounders once again. The reigning champions - having already defeated the Fire in the regular season opener - were poised to be a contender. 

After a scoreless first half, the Fire jumped ahead thanks to a tally from former Designated Player striker Robert Beric, before Seattle quickly responded to level at the score at one apiece.  

In the 84th minute, the Fire earned themselves a corner after applying pressure in the attacking third.  

A service from Gaston Gimenez went through a maze of bodies inside the six-yard box, with Pineda quickly getting past his marker with the hopes of capitalizing late in the match.  

“To be honest, just to be back out in Orlando and playing again was super exciting.” Pineda prefaced. “But then, obviously the goal was just a bonus.” 

Creating space in a fraction of seconds, Pineda lifted his left leg and redirected the ball back into the exposed net. As if in slow motion, the deflection snuck under the outstretched right hand of Stefan Frei, touching the tips of his fingers before it found the back of the net.

“Late in the game, game winner against Seattle,” Pineda said. So that made it that much better. But yeah, it was great. It was a great feeling regardless of where it was.” 

Pineda had his first. Chicago had upset the defending champions.

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Although the goal was special, even Pineda admits that it wasn’t at the forefront of his mind in the moment. 

“Yeah, don’t get me wrong, that was really exciting, but it was really hot, and I was cramping (during) my celebration.” Pineda laughed. “It was brutal, but it’s a fun memory to look back on.” 

As the tournament went on, along with the rest of the 2020 season, Pineda would appear in every game of his rookie campaign. He even led the team in minutes played. That meant Pineda had played in every possible game - collegiately and professionally - for the past five years.  

The young defender even took the Club’s Defender of the Year award in his rookie season.  

Fast forward to 2023 - and the Homegrown isn’t a kid anymore.  

The 25-year-old is currently on pace to set a new career high in games. A mainstay in the backline as well as the midfield, his consistency and reliability have been the most prominent components of his play. With a duel win percentage of over 50 percent and over 130 interceptions, Pineda has solidified himself as a key part of this 2023 roster. 

Once Pineda reaches the 100-appearance mark - he’ll be in a league of his own.  

More games played than Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina, Brian Gutierrez, Chris Brady, and Djordje Mihailovic.  

“Honestly, I'm happy that I'm in this position with this Club.” Pineda said. “I never take for granted that I'm playing for my hometown Club. I’ve enjoyed every weekend and I'm happy to be here.” 

But for Pineda, it’s business as usual. His quiet but determined demeanor stays focused on the task at hand - to help his Club whenever he’s called upon to do so. 

While the organization honors and recognizes his accomplishment, his focus remains on helping the team work towards the collective goal of making it into the postseason. 

Something that had been instilled in him since his days at the Chicago Fire Academy. 

Something that had been instilled in him since he saw his older brother wear the Fire badge for the very first time.