BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Fire Homegrown midfielder Victor Pineda is back from an early summer in Europe perhaps a bit sooner than he would have liked.
The Bolingbrook native departed for Toulon, France back on May 25 to join up with the U.S. U-20 team for the Toulon Tournament in preparation for the ongoing FIFA U-20 World Championships in Turkey.
Following offseason meniscus surgery, just making the U.S. roster was an accomplishment for Pineda but after spending over a month away in Europe, the 20-year-old midfielder admitted frustration at his lack of playing time as well as the team’s early exit after going 0-2-1 in the group stage.
“It was disappointing really and kind of sad to end the tournament that way,” said Pineda. “I felt with the players we had and the effort we had put in the whole trip starting in France, then Portugal and Turkey, I thought that we deserved a lot more but that’s how you learn.”
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Prior to suffering a torn meniscus last November, Pineda had been a regular for Tab Ramos’ side during the U-20 cycle but recovery from the injury forced him to miss the team’s successful CONCACAF qualifying effort back in February and perhaps put him at a disadvantage for playing time going into the tournament.
In the end, Pineda played just 11 minutes, coming on Mario Rodriguez with the team trailing 3-1 to Ghana in their final group match. Needing a win, the U.S. surrendered a fourth goal minutes later to underline a disappointing tournament.
“For myself I was pretty disappointed just because of the playing time. It’s not something I could control. I gave my all to get back from the injury as fast as I could and just training as hard as I could when I was there. Every time I got to play I felt pretty good.”
Despite the lack of playing time, Frank Klopas hailed Pineda’s recovery from meniscus surgery and the valuable experience he gained with the U.S. U-20s over the past month.
“The [knee was] one thing that kept him out a lot of time and it isn’t easy,” said Klopas. “You saw the respect that he had and the quality he is so they called him in. It was a good experience for him to be there and it’s good to have him back for sure.
“I think all that experience will help him.”
Having arrived back from Turkey at 1:00 am Saturday morning, Pineda started and played 45 minutes for the Fire reserves in their 2-1 loss to the Charlotte Eagles that night.
“I really wanted to play just because I hadn’t played in the World Cup at all. At the end I thought it wasn’t my smartest decisions because it was hard for me to play with heavy legs.”
Though jet-lag is a reasonable excuse, Pineda has returned to the Fire fully fit, saying his knee is “pretty good” and says he’s ready to once again challenge for a spot in the gameday 18.
“I feel pretty confident especially after this trip. Just playing games in general gives me more confidence. Every time I come back from the national team I feel a bit better about myself.
“I feel ready [to play for the Fire].”
Asked whether Pineda was capable of making his competitive debut this season, Klopas said, “We’ll see. If he wasn’t capable we wouldn’t have him on the team.”