mauricio pineda celebration seattle

Mauricio Pineda comes up clutch in Group B win against Seattle

What a week for Mauricio Pineda.

The 2020 Fire Homegrown signing -- in his third professional start -- slotted home his first professional goal 84 minutes into the Fire’s MLS is Back Tournament opener on Tuesday, a 2-1 victory against the Seattle Sounders.

The finish broke a 1-1 deadlock and helped deliver a full three points to Chicago, who now sit alone atop the Tournament’s Group B standings with their first match now behind them.

“I felt good,” Pineda said following the match. “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. 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.”

Despite his responsibilities in central defense or in the defensive midfield, Pineda’s goal-scoring potential has been at the forefront of discussion around Fire circles as of late. Last Wednesday, in a pre-Tournament warmup against Minnesota United FC, the 22-year-old put his entire foot through a Minnesota clearance attempt and scored a stunning volley mere seconds into the match.

On Wednesday, it was announced that the Fire had picked up Pineda's option for 2021, meaning the Bolingbrook, Ill. native will remain at home at least through next season. The Club has additional options on Pineda for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

“He has I think surprised a lot of people in the preseason,” head coach Raphael Wicky told media after the match. “We are very happy about that. He came back the same way after the pandemic, so he's doing the same thing as before. We are very happy to have him in our team. That gives us a big option. Obviously now he starts scoring goals which is helpful as well. He just needs to keep working and keep improving. There is a good future in front of him, but the most important thing is to keep (the) right mentality.”

Goal aside, Pineda has picked up right where he left off from the Fire’s first two matches of 2020. In a 2-1 opening day defeat at Seattle on March 1 and a 1-1 road draw against New England on March 7, Pineda showed poise beyond his years in a pair of 90-minute performances.

On Tuesday, he was again among the tidiest and most involved players on the pitch, this time lined up along Wicky’s defensive unit. By the numbers, his 48 pass completions on 51 attempts led the team. His 57 touches were second to Francisco Calvo’s 61. His eight defensive actions (tackles, blocks, interceptions, clearances) were second only to newcomer Boris Sekulić’s 13.

It has undoubtedly been a fast start to Pineda’s young career through three matches. Ask him about it, though, and the only thing that matters is match number four.

“Right now all my energy is going towards this team,” he said. “I’m just really happy that we got the three points. I think everything has been directed towards this game, all the hard work that we have had in the past three to four months, so I'm just putting all my energy on that and I'm glad we got the result and I'm happy with that and I'm ready to move on to the next game.”

Pineda and the Fire resume Group B play this Sunday, July 19, against the San Jose Earthquakes (7 p.m. CT | FS1, TUDN).