CHICAGO — While the club is going to have to go outside the organization to bring in some players to help at the moment, it’s important to have players who have roots in the Chicago area.

That’s especially the case when it’s a homegrown Chicago Fire FC players who’ve come up through the franchise to the main club.

Manager Ezra Hendrickson has gotten to know those players who’ve been with the club for a number of years since he was hired ahead of the 2022 season. That includes a native of Bolingbrook, whose pride in playing with the hometown club particularly stands out.

“He’s a Homegrown player that really bleeds Fire,” said Hendrickson of Mauricio Pineda, who came up through the Fire system and is in his fourth year at the MLS level.

Of the nine homegrown players listed on the Fire’s roster, Pineda has been there the longest, making his debut in March 2020.

The defender was in the Fire’s system in 2015 and 2016 before going to the University of North Carolina for four seasons before returning three years ago.

“For me, it’s an honor to play for this club, for my city. It means a lot every time I step on the field,” said Pineda. “I think it just gives me much more motivation to work for the team and help the team in any way that I can and take the team back to, like you said, where it belongs.”

The defender doesn’t mind doing that in any role – which is something that really stands out to Hendrickson. A starter for all but one of his 52 games in his first two seasons, Pineda came off the bench for four of 27 matches last season and has only started one of his seven games in 2023.

Yet the manager hasn’t seen it affect the defender’s effort or mindset, or his desire to elevate the club.

“I’m just happy for him that he stayed focused and he didn’t get discouraged when he didn’t
get playing time or didn’t get playing time at all,” said Hendrickson of Pineda. “He just kept working hard and that has kept him as one of our players that we look at when we say, okay, who do we need on the pitch, what type of players we want on this team.

“He’s one of those guys. He brings it in training and when called upon in games he’s been very, very good for us. We’re very happy with him.”

While the desire to start is certainly there for Pineda, he has found a benefit to his role as a substitute early in the 2023 MLS season, as the team has started 2-4-1.

“I think ideally, all 25 of us would love to be on the starting 11 every week, but I think the games have shown that there is so much importance in finishing off a game strong. So if you are on the bench, I think what you really have to be ready for is to finish off a game and be able to help the team in that way in the best way possible, and I think that’s something that I’ve been prepared for a lot this year,” said Pineda. “It is sometimes unfortunate for every player to not be on the starting 11 but I think it is more important to build a team that is all together and has one job in common and wants to work for towards that goal, and that’s winning a game, and I think it takes more than the starting 11 that’s on the field to begin with.”