BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The first of potentially a few different offseason training stints for Fire players was announced earlier today as midfielders Dilly Duka and Victor Pineda are set to spend time with Spanish La Liga side Atletico Madrid the next two weeks.
Running from November 21 to December 6, the stints mark the third time the Fire have seen players spend part of their offseason with the club’s Team for the World alliance partner after Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry went over last November and Corben Bone this past January.
“It’s going to be a fun trip,” Duka told Chicago-Fire.com via phone on Tuesday. “It’s definitely a place where soccer is played at the highest level and it’s going to be a good place to see what’s out there and learn from it.”
“I’m very excited,” said Pineda. “We’ve been off for a little bit now and I think to get that experience with a team like Atletico Madrid is great. It’s not just any team or any league, it’s one of the beast teams in Spain and one of the best leagues in the world.”
For Pineda, the trip will mark a little bit of redemption.
Slated to join Berry and Anibaba in Madrid last November, plans changed when the Fire Homegrown midfielder suffered a postseason MCL tear that required surgery.
The injury and subsequent recovery seemed to throw off what looked to be a major opportunity to push into the first team and kept him from taking part in the U.S. U-20’s CONCACAF qualifying bid.
Instead of having a full preseason to make his first team case and build towards the U-20 World Cup, Pineda spent the time rehabbing. While he recovered in time to make the U.S. squad for their trip to Turkey, he made just one substitute appearance as the team crashed out in the group stage.
With the first team playing catch up after a disappointing start to the season, Pineda never made the game day 18 upon his return from the World Championships in June. The overall experience of injury, his return to make the national team but lack of first team playing time was admittedly frustrating for the 20-year-old midfielder.
“I had a lot of excitement building towards the World Cup, I felt motivated and that the level of my soccer was growing, maybe at its best but it was sort of a downer with the way things went for me this year.”
With the trip to Madrid and a new coach in the form of Frank Yallop at the helm, Pineda admits he sees new opportunity as the soon-to-be 21-year-old looks for his competitive debut at the club he’s been with since the age of 12.
“I just see it as a new opportunity,” he said. “It motivates me to keep working and makes me look forward to next year. It’s also down to me, starting with preseason, my performance has to be good and I have to impress.”
Duka, who has spent two previous offseasons on Generation adidas tours to Spain and Holland, thinks the trip will be especially good for his younger teammate.
“I think it’s important for him to get playing time in the offseason,” he said. “We’re not going to just an average club, we’re going to a big club in Europe. To see players his age and other incredibly talented players and their regulars is only going to help his game. Victor is a very good player and it’s going to be a good learning experience for him.”
As for Duka himself, the trip abroad will cap a season in which he feels he turned a corner in terms of his personal growth. The fourth year MLS midfielder tallied four goals and three assists with the Fire this season compared to two goals and five assists over his previous three years in Columbus.
“I like Chicago a lot,” he said. “I like the organization a ton and I think this year we had real ups and downs – it was a long season that ended earlier than we thought it would. I thought my play this year was better than my previous years. I just enjoyed it and I think when you enjoy soccer you play that much better.”
Like his younger teammate, Duka is also looking forward to working with Yallop.
“He’s been in the league for a very long time and talking to certain players that know a lot about him, they have a lot of respect for him. I think he’s going to make the best of what he’s got and hopefully we can have a better year and be a team that our fans really enjoy watching.”