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Youngsters on Fire in preseason, including local players

Bolingbrook native Mauricio Pineda (left), who’s drawing high praise, has been training with the Fire’s first team. | Getty Images

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic doesn’t have much to go on in the preseason, but the early returns from a fresh crop of young talent have been good.

After a 3-0 victory over the University of South Florida in the preseason opener Saturday, Paunovic is only starting to get a glimpse of how much his inexperienced players could factor into his plans when the regular season begins March 6.

Paunovic has been impressed with the way his younger players have adjusted at the professional level despite being virtually untested.

“They are proving themselves that they can be reliable in the future for our team,” Paunovic said.

Sean Johnson, Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent began training with the Fire this week after spending time with the U.S. national team.

But the trio’s absence gave Paunovic a chance to evaluate other youngsters, including 18-year-old defender and Bolingbrook native Mauricio Pineda, who signed a letter of intent to play at North Carolina next fall.

Pineda has been training with the first team along with fellow homegrown players Collin Fernandez (Downers Grove) and Patrick Doody (Naperville).

Paunovic said it’s too early to determine how long Pineda would stay with the Fire or whether he would sign with the team after committing to play for the Tar Heels. But after Pineda started against USF, Paunovic likes what he has seen.

“I would say we are very happy with what he can do on the next level, the professional level,” Paunovic said. “He is proving that. He, Collin and other guys, this is what gives us security.”

The Fire’s next game is against the Philadelphia Union at 3 p.m. Thursday in Clearwater, Florida. It will be streamed live at Chicago-Fire.com.

Staying put

The Sky re-signed forward Jessica Breland to a multiyear contract Tuesday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Breland started 30 games for the Sky last season, averaging 6.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. The 6-3 forward, who came to the Sky before the 2014 season, also had three double-doubles.

“Her ability to positively impact both ends of the floor is invaluable,” Sky coach and general manager Pokey Chatman said.

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