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Bolingbrook native and Fire midfielder Victor Pineda has fire in his belly

Santos Lagunv Chicago Fire

Santos Laguna v Chicago Fire

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Updated: June 24, 2013 11:06PM



Victor Pineda still remembers the first Fire game he attended as a young boy with his youth soccer team 10 years ago.

“The Fire was still playing at Soldier Field, and the team I was playing for had our whole team go to the game because we were playing on the field after the game,” Pineda said. “Even now I still think about that moment.”

Pineda’s youth game at Soldier Field would not be the only time he played on the pitch with the Fire. In 2010, at 17, Pineda became the first player out of the Fire’s developmental youth program, the Chicago Fire Academy, to be signed to the first-team roster.

Today, Pineda’s soccer skills have taken him far from Soldier Field. The 20-year-old Bolingbrook native is playing in Istanbul as a member of the U.S. national team in the FIFA U-20 World Cup. That team is 0-1-1 after a 1-1 tie against France on Monday.

“It would be easy for a 17-year-old to become a pro and have an attitude that said, ‘Hey I’m big time.’ But that’s not Victor at all,” said Larry Sunderland, director of the Chicago Fire Academy. “I think that all of the players in the academy look up to Victor as the first guy to make the roster.”

All 19 MLS teams invest in developmental academies that provide elite cost-free training for young players that show promise. The Chicago Fire Academy is the first MLS team to provide training to players as young as the U-10 age group.

“I like to think that in 10 years, you’re seeing a first team with a quite a few academy guys on it,” Sunderland said.

Sunderland, who began coaching Pineda when the crafty midfielder was 14, said Pineda is the first of many players who will be signed to the first team from the academy. Sunderland said he believes the investment in Chicago-area players will pay off and the MLS development academies will improve the growth of soccer talent in America.

“There is potential we could have a player at nine years old now come through and train with us for 10 years and become a first-team player,’’ Sunderland said. ‘‘With Victor it was three or four years [of training], but think of how far we can go with 10 years.”

Veteran forward Patrick Nyarko has taken Pineda under his wing. Nyarko said he is amazed by Pineda’s progress.

“I make jokes with him every day about his strength.’’ Nyarko said. ‘‘The kid has come a long ways. He has gotten stronger.’’

Pineda was a solid contributor to the U-20 team in the 2012 season, scoring three goals and one assist in six appearances, before he suffered a left meniscus tear in November and underwent surgery. The injury forced Pineda to miss the entire MLS preseason, where Nyarko said he would have made a real push for a spot on the team.

The U-20 World Cup will serve not only to test the strength of the American team, which has yet to progress past the quarterfinals in 13 tries, but also as a search for the next American soccer stars. Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Freddy Adu, DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard have all played in previous U-20 tournaments. The Americans and Pineda face a daunting challenge to emerge from their group of Spain, France and Ghana.

Will Pineda be the next player to step up on the world stage?

“I’m 100 percent confident he is going to be a huge contributor on the team and I think his professional career is going to take off from there,” Nyarko said. “When he comes back he will have double the confidence he had when he left.”



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