Gonzalo Pineda’s debut with Sounders stirs emotions

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comMarch 18, 2014 

Seattle Sounders midfielder Gonzalo Pineda, left, battles for the ball with Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley during the MLS match in Seattle Saturday.

THOMAS SOERENES — Staff photographer

Midfielder Gonzalo Pineda admits to tears of joy Saturday after making his debut with Seattle Sounders FC.

Pineda’s 61-minute appearance marked his return to the game he thought he might have to leave forever after suffering a sports hernia last year in Mexico.

He eventually decided he had more to accomplish in the sport, underwent surgery and finally completed his long road back in the 29th minute Saturday when he was sent on as a replacement for Brad Evans in the Sounders’ 2-1 home loss to Toronto FC.

“We lost, so I get sad a little bit,” Pineda said. “But also when I was alone Saturday after the game, I cried, because — I don’t know — it was very special to me to get back on the field and play a game again after all the sufferings, the pain, for me, for my family. I am very happy to be here.”

Pineda, 31, made 32 appearances for the Mexico national team from 2004-2007. He also played with Liga MX clubs Guadalajara, San Luis, Cruz Azul, Puebla and Queretaro from 2006-13.

After his injury, he looked north to Major League Soccer but walked away from a tryout with the Chicago Fire knowing his body wasn’t up to the challenge.

“I think, ‘Hey, that’s it, I can’t do this anymore,’ ” Pineda said Monday. “ ‘I don’t want to keep playing like this.’ I say, ‘Well, I want to retire.’ (Then) time passed, and I felt like, ‘Hey, I’m 31, and I want to bring something more from soccer. I want to be champion again. I want to be on the field again.’ So that’s what I’m trying to do, you know: to enjoy every day. And then when I came with the Sounders it was like a very new experience, it was like my first time in soccer.”

Pineda joined Seattle in preseason and signed with the club on March 5, three days before the opener. He wasn’t on the 18-man game-day roster for that one. But by the second week he was not only in uniform, but was also rushed into action when Evans suffered a calf injury.

“He gave us what we needed in terms of being able to hold on to possession,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Fitness-wise I thought he held up pretty well. Probably the last 10 minutes was pushing it a little bit for him. Probably he had to come on a little too early. He’s got 45-55 (minutes of fitness) right now in him, but I thought he did all right.”

Evans’ status remains unknown for the next match Saturday at Montreal. If he isn’t ready, Schmid indicated the call wouldn’t automatically go to Pineda. Depending on technical needs, Andy Rose or Michael Azira also would be considered.

However, Pineda is happy to be back playing the game he loves. And especially happy to be a Sounder, whose fans made a favorable first impression.

“In Mexico when you lose a game, even with your own crowd, they are always saying ‘Boo, come on, why did you lose?’ ” Pineda said. “But after the (Sounders’ loss to Toronto), they always support us. That was very special. That was very good to me. That means that we have a very good crowd, so that makes me – I don’t know how to say in English – have to do my best for this crowd also.”

ADDED TIME

Jermain Defoe was voted MLS player of the week for his two-goal performance in Toronto’s 2-1 win in Seattle. ... MLS on Monday announced that it has credited midfielder Lamar Neagle of Federal Way with an assist in Clint Dempsey’s goal against TFC. Neagle passed to Obafemi Martins, who then sent the ball on to Dempsey. ... The Montreal Impact announced Monday that ticket sales have topped 24,000 for its home opener Saturday against the Sounders at Olympic Stadium. ... Schmid said defender Leo Gonzalez (groin) and forward Tristan Bowen (quadriceps) could be ready to make their season debuts.

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt

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