Soccer: Victor Pineda, of Bolingbrook, on international stage for U.S. at FIFA U-20 World Cup
It’s shaping up to be a big summer for Victor Pineda.
The Bolingbrook native and Plainfield East product, who was the first member of the Chicago Fire’s Fire Academy youth teams to crack the Fire’s MLS roster, hopes to make his regular-season debut with the Fire later this season.
First, he’ll get a chance to represent the United States in the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup, which kicks off Friday in Turkey.
“It’s awesome,” Pineda said in a phone interview from Portugal, where the team trained leading up to the tournament. “I can’t wait for Friday. It’s so exciting to be here.”
The U.S. will open group play at 12:45 p.m. Friday against Spain at Ali Sami Yen Arena in Istanbul.
Pineda, who turned 20 in March, has some experience at striker with the National Team. He played in six matches with the U-20 squad in 2012 and scored three goals.
His spot on the World Cup team was far from a sure thing, though, especially after he suffered a torn left meniscus in November. Surgery followed, and he missed the CONCACAF U-20 Championship.
So when coach Tab Ramos finalized the U.S. roster on June 7 and Pineda had a spot, it meant even more.
“It was great to see they had enough confidence in me to still pick me,” Pineda said. “At the same time, it’s been hard because I was out for (four months) after the surgery then came back and had an ankle sprain that set me back again. It’s awesome to be here after all that.
“I feel really good right now. My knee isn’t bothering me at all and I’m getting over the ankle.”
The trip already has been a blast for Pineda. The team competed in the Toulon Tournament in France from May 28 to June 5 before heading to Portugal for training camp.
“It was a great experience playing in the tournament in France,” Pineda said. “The team did awesome. The training camp in Portugal has been tough, but it’s definitely good for the team to work hard. It’s good to see everyone getting ready for the World Cup.
“We’ve seen a lot of cities in Europe, and they’ve all been great to visit.”
Pineda said playing with a squad filled with the country’s best young players is helping him improve his game.
“It’s a different style here,” he said. “Everything seems a bit faster. It makes everything even harder. I just have to work hard every day and every session.”
Pineda, who was an All-American at Plainfield East before joining the Fire Academy full-time, hopes to help ignite the U.S. offense.
“I’ll be playing out wide and trying to help the team get up the flanks and get crosses in,” he said. “Of course, as a forward, my job is to score, too. It’s always been a dream to score in a World Cup.”
After playing in some exhibition matches and international friendlies with Fire, Pineda hopes to make his MLS regular-season debut when he returns to the team after the tournament.
“To be able to make the first team after being in the program all these years is an amazing feeling,” he said. “It means a lot to be the first one and set an example for all the young players in Chicago to follow. I’ve gotten a lot of experience and I think I’m ready to go. I just have to get that chance and take advantage.”
First thing’s first, though. Pineda will take the field with the U.S. team Friday, and it figures to be emotional.
“It’s going to be great,” he said. “I think the team is going to do well. I’m sure I’ll be a bit more nervous than normal.
“It’s every soccer player’s dream to play in a World Cup.”