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USMNT’s Berhalter weighs in on the Fire’s Mauricio Pineda and Djordje Mihailovic

Both Fire players are fighting for a cap Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. against El Salvador

MLS: Chicago Fire at New England Revolution
Mauricio Pineda dribbles against the New England Revolution earlier this year
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Fire defender Mauricio Pineda may be in United States Men’s National Team camp for the first time, but he’s no stranger to U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter.

During Pineda’s time at the University of North Carolina, he was teammates with Sebastian Berhalter, Gregg’s son, who is now with the Columbus Crew. That means the elder Berhalter got to see a lot of the Bolingbrook, Ill. native.

“One thing that’s clear with Mauricio—he’s grown tremendously throughout this last year and a half,” Berhalter told Hot Time in Old Town during a news conference Tuesday. “He’s really improved his game. I think he had a really solid rookie season, and did a great job. Very technical, good on the ball, and he’s a competitor. It’s really good to see him live in training.”

At UNC, Pineda played a lot in midfield, but spent the bulk of his rookie season with the Fire paired with Francisco Calvo in central defense. Berhalter seems to see Pineda as a defender, praising the work he’s done this week alongside NYRB’s Aaron Long, Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman and the Philadelphia Union’s Mark McKenzie.

“They’ve done great this week—all four of them,” Berhalter said. “When you think about how we’re trying to defend, a lot of space behind the back line, they’re having to deal with it, it’s been really interesting. They’ve been having to go into a lot of duels, and they’ve been really good in that.”

Mihailovic is back in USMNT camp for the first time since 2019, a year that saw him earn five caps. The Lemont, Ill. native had an up-and-down 2020 for the Fire, getting benched at the MLS is Back tournament by Fire coach Raphael Wicky because of a still unclear personal issue, but coming back to lead the team in assists with seven.

Berhalter said Mihailovic’s mentality is the key to his long term success.

“Djordje’s the type of player that, he’s as good as he sets his mind to, because he has fantastic talent, and it’s more about him just applying his talent,” Berhalter said. “He’s a player with real high potential, and it’s always fun to work with Djordje.”

The U.S. takes on El Salvador Wednesday in the first national team match at Inter Miami’s new stadium. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN News, UniMas and TUDN.