After a standout career with both the Chicago Fire FC Academy and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mauricio Pineda was revealed as the Fire's latest Homegrown signing on Friday afternoon.
Moments after Pineda signed his first professional contract alongside friends and family at Fire FC's new downtown Chicago HQ, the 22-year-old sat down with ChicagoFireFC.com to discuss how it felt to sign with his hometown Club, his time spent in the Academy and playing at UNC, his excitement for the upcoming season, and more.
Read the full conversation below (edited for clarity):
Homegrown homecoming ✍️ pic.twitter.com/HlH6lCwMxg— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) January 17, 2020
ChicagoFireFC.com: Having officially put pen-to-paper, what does it mean to you to be coming home to represent Chicago as a professional?
Mauricio Pineda: “I’m so happy to sign my first professional contract with the Fire. I joined the Club when I was 10 years old and have been dreaming of playing for the Fire since then. I can’t wait to get started.”
CFFC: What have your interactions been like so far with Sporting Director Georg Heitz, Technical Director Sebastian Pelzer and head coach Raphael Wicky? What vision do they have for you?
MP: "They’ve been really good. I actually met them for the first time today, but they seem like great guys. They made me feel really comfortable being here. I was a little nervous coming in here and seeing the new offices (laughs), but they were so welcoming. It felt like I was a part of the Club already, and it’s only the first day."
CFFC: You've been connected to the Club for a long time -- through the Academy, through your older brother Victor playing here, through training with the first team. As someone with a lengthy perspective on the Fire, what are your thoughts on the Club's new direction and the move to Soldier Field?
MP: "It’s exciting. I don’t remember watching the Fire a ton (as a kid), because I was younger when they were back at Soldier Field. But I’ve seen a lot of videos of when they were at Soldier Field and it looks exciting. Obviously, it’s a huge stadium. From the time that I was with the Fire (Academy), it was always at SeatGeek Stadium. I always enjoyed going to those games. It was a lot of fun. Now, seeing the changes and being in the city again, it’s exciting to be a part of it."
CFFC: As you complete the journey from Academy player to first-team player, how do you reflect on your time spent in the Fire Academy and how did it prepare you for this next step?
MP: "It was the best preparation I could get. It started with my dad. He always pushed me, so when I joined the academy he still continued to push me and always try to make me better. With the Academy, I always had some really good coaches that always knew what was best for the players and best for the team. That really helped me get to where I am today. I had Larry Sunderland (as a coach) at the time who was hard on me (laughs) and pushed me a lot, but that’s what made me better. He always challenged me to be better for myself and be better for the team."
CFFC: Of your time coming up through the Academy ranks, what moments stick out to you as the most memorable?
MP: "Easily the (2015 U.S. Soccer Development Academy) National Championship. It was hard, because the two or three years before that we'd made the playoffs, we won the first two games, and then we lost the third game. We were never able to make it to the quarterfinals. That year, I remember we played Red Bulls in the third playoff game and we beat them to make it into the quarterfinals. The rest of the journey was amazing. I got really close with all those guys. The National Championship game was a lot of fun. It was intense. It was Real Salt Lake, so to come out on top in that game was a really good feeling. Getting to celebrate with all the guys, all the brothers I made along the way who I’m still really close with now, it was a great feeling."
CFFC: You were a top collegiate player throughout your career at North Carolina. What were some of the things you learned about yourself and about your game during your time in Chapel Hill?
MP: "Chapel Hill is an amazing place. It was an experience I’ll hold with me for the rest of my life. The three-and-a-half years that I spent there were really good. The people are really good. The coaching staff helped me improve as a player, improve as a person. I really felt like I grew from the first day I got there to the last day that I left. I’m really thankful for having that opportunity to go to Carolina and thankful for the Fire for always supporting my decision to go to school. It’s an amazing place and I’m really happy that I was able to be there for three-and-a-half years."
CFFC: You're about to jump right into 2020 preseason camp on Monday. How do you plan on attacking your first preseason as a professional?
MP: "I think there’s a certain drive that every player should have, but specifically as a rookie you have to have that drive going into preseason. Bringing that mentality -- that killer mentality, that drive -- to my game every single day to try to help the team as much as I have. To challenge myself -- to challenge my teammates to make them better -- that’s my mentality going into it. I'll work as hard as I can to make myself better and my teammates better."
CFFC: Looking ahead to the end of your rookie season, what goals do you hope to have accomplished in your first year in Major League Soccer?
MP: "It’s hard to say. Obviously you want to set ambitious goals, but I think the most important part would be to finish my rookie season knowing that I gave it my all for myself and for my teammates. I don’t want to set any certain goals. The most important part to me is just working hard and putting my teammates first."