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Mauricio Pineda looking to build off strong rookie season

Pineda signing a Homegrown contract was a moment long anticipated by the Fire, and he lived up to the expectations in his first year.

Mauricio Pineda figures to be a key part of the Fire’s future.
Mauricio Pineda figures to be a key part of the Fire’s future.
Courtesy of the Fire

Mauricio Pineda signing a Homegrown contract was a moment long anticipated by the Fire, and he lived up to the expectations in his first season.

After playing as a central midfielder in college at North Carolina, Pineda spent the bulk of his rookie season at center back, where he was stationed during his time in the Fire academy. He started all 23 games and scored three times, establishing himself as a key part of the Fire’s future.

‘‘It’s definitely exciting,’’ Pineda said. ‘‘Obviously, it’s my home club, so it’s something that I’ve always dreamt of. I think the most important thing right now is just to keep taking it day by day, keep working hard and just be as ready as possible for whenever the next game is or for next season to come.’’

Pineda’s rookie season was pockmarked with uncertainty because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said handling that was ‘‘definitely difficult,’’ but the most important part of getting through the challenge was the standard set during the preseason.

‘‘It was a professional environment,’’ Pineda said. ‘‘The coaches set high expectations for us, and I think that definitely helped going into the quarantine, knowing that the standard was going to be high going back into the season, whether that was two weeks after the season got cut off or three months.

‘‘I think the most important thing was just to try to stay at the highest standard that we could during those times and just be ready for whenever the time came.’’

Of course, that doesn’t mean everything went perfectly.

Though Pineda turned in a strong season, he knows he can improve. He said he was comfortable on the ball at center back because of his time as a midfielder but will look to improve defensively.

‘‘I haven’t played a ton of center back in a while — and especially at this level,’’ Pineda said. ‘‘I think just always trying to learn where my positioning could be better, how to position myself in the box, one-[on]-one defending, everything like that.

‘‘That’s something that everyone has been really helpful with in trying to help me through that and just get better every single day.’’

Meanwhile, with a playoff berth in their grasp, the Fire went winless in their last six games to miss a generous playoff format. They squandered leads and couldn’t grind out results when they needed to, falling short of what should have been an attainable goal.

‘‘There were just too many games that we might’ve given away that we shouldn’t have,’’ Pineda said. ‘‘That was the most disappointing part about it, but it’s definitely something to reflect on and use as motivation for next year.

‘‘That was the message from the coaching staff and that everyone took away from the season. Everyone will definitely be motivated to change that for next season.’’