Last week, Sigi Schmid spoke about the importance of having World Cup veterans with Sounders FC – the value of having experience on big stages and what that can bring to Major League Soccer.
"To have experienced players is always important, but players who can still give you quality is what's most important," Schmid said. "They're not going to panic in big games and big situations and they know when it's time to step up and that's something that's really important."
Little did he know, one of those World Cup vets – Gonzalo Pineda – would call on some big-game experience on Saturday in a 2-2 draw with Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
In the 2005 Confederations Cup semifinal, Mexico was in a shootout with Argentina after playing 120 minutes to a 1-1 draw. After both teams converted on all of their first four attempts, Pineda stepped to the spot to keep hope alive for Mexico. Rather than blasting a shot in an attempt to beat the goalkeeper to one side or the other, he floated a ball down the middle to score for Mexico. He used the same technique in the 2007 CONCACAF Champions League final while playing with Chivas de Guadalajara.
On Saturday, he went to that bag of tricks again when Sounders FC needed a goal after falling behind 2-1 and drawing a penalty in the final minutes of the match, scoring on a 'panenka' (named for the Czechoslovakian midfielder Antonin Panenka who made the technique famous in the 1976 European Championships) to give Seattle the 2-2 draw.
"I was just filled with confidence and I knew it was my time, so I took it. My only purpose was to score and that was all that mattered, no matter how," Pineda said. "It was good for the team because we got one point with that goal."
That confidence has been building for Pineda. A year ago, he was unsure what his future would hold when he underwent sports hernia surgery. The long road to recovery made his soccer career even more uncertain, but an opportunity arose with Sounders FC and he has grasped it with both hands, coming to the club in the preseason and earning a contract through his play as well as his quick chemistry with his new team.
Although he wasn't at 100-percent yet, he could clearly make an impact in Seattle's midfield.
"Once we were able to get him in and around the team and gauge his personality, we thought it was a fit on a lot of levels," Schmid said. "From a standpoint of what he's contributed on the field, he's been a real positive and probably has exceeded what we'd expected."
Making such an impact so early in his time with Seattle wasn't just a surprise to Schmid. Pineda himself thought it would take longer for him to acclimate to the new club and the new league, as well as getting his family adjusted to living in America.
However, he has one goal and four assists while starting in 11 of Seattle's 13 matches and his family has quickly come to love Seattle.
"It's a surprise to me. It was almost one year without a game and I thought it might take two months to be ready on the fitness part and on the soccer part. That takes some time," Pineda said. "It's a surprise to me that my body has a good memory and that came to me in the early part of the season. It was very helpful, the confidence from the coaches and my teammates."