Entering his fifth season as a professional, the idea of original Fire Homegrown player Victor Pineda actually appearing in a competitive match for the club started to feel like it wouldn’t happen.
Having signed out of the club’s Academy at age 17 in 2010, Pineda had found himself on the bench here and there over the past four seasons but never found his way on to the field.
So when Fire head coach Frank Yallop finally called his number to enter Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Red Bull for Benji Joya in the 71st minute, you’d excuse his reaction.
“He asked me if I was ready and I kind of laughed a little bit,” Pineda joked post-game. “He just said to enjoy it and take my opportunity.
“I was glad to finally be out there. It’s something I’ve been working for a while now. It was exciting to just be able to go into a game that was 1-1. You get that thought in your head that you could get the goal that’s going to help your team win.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Clips from the Fire's 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls
The Bolingbrook, Ill., product stepped on to the field to a loud ovation from the partisan Fire crowd at Toyota Park in a special moment for those that have followed Pineda’s story.
And while many a fan thought he may never see the field for the first team, the U.S. youth international says his absence from the pitch only made him stronger.
“I never lost hope but at times I got really frustrated,” Pineda admitted. “I think [not playing] helped me mature in a lot of ways. Mentally I’m a lot tougher than I was even from just a year or two years ago. I think that’s going to help me a lot in the future.”
Pineda wasn’t the first Homegrown player in Fire history to appear in a competitive match for the club, that honor was bestowed on rookie Harry Shipp who appeared in last Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Portland.
This week, the Notre Dame alum bagged his first assist, providing a perfect cross for Jeff Larentowicz for the game’s opening goal in the sixth minute.
“The last two weeks have been very special for me,” said Shipp. “Getting the debut last week then coming here and getting an assist in my home town against a team with Henry and Cahill was fantastic. Still, a win would have been better for us, but we move on to the next game.
RECAP: Chicago Fire 1, New York Red Bulls 1
When he came in, some naysayers looked at Yallop’s supposed reputation for not playing young players in the past as a sign that Fire Homegrowns didn’t have a chance to see the field.
Along with Pineda and Shipp, Joya has appeared in all three matches, while deputy left back Greg Cochrane logged the full 90 on Sunday. The four players, all of whom are under the age of 23 have played in 471 minutes combined over the first four matches.
“It’s never easy for these young guys to come in and play on such a big stage,” Yallop said post-game. “I think that both Harry and Benji last week did a good job and I thought they did well today. From our injury situation right now it’s a chance for other guys to get some minutes and see how they get on. I was pleased with all of them.”