TUKWILA — When the roar of 40,000 fans had finally died down and Gonzalo Pineda found himself in a quiet moment after his Sounders FC debut, he couldn’t hold back tears.

It wasn’t very long ago when the veteran midfielder felt his career was over. A nagging sports hernia required surgery last August, and months of recovery without a team left the former Mexican international without hope or answers.

Pineda, in his lowest days, considered retirement at 31 years old.

“It wasn’t easy for me, for my family,” he said. “I was (dealing) with a little depression and thinking ‘Hey, that’s it. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to keep playing like this.’

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“But I don’t know, the time passed and I felt like, ‘Hey, I’m 31, and I want to (get) something more from soccer. I want to be a champion again. I want to be on the field again.’ So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

The reward for that endeavor came Saturday when Pineda entered as a first-half substitute for the injured Brad Evans. Pineda played 61 minutes — perhaps more than ideal as he returns to full strength — in a game that ended in a 2-1 defeat to Toronto FC.

The loss hurt, but nothing like the months prior.

“It was very special to me to get back on the field and play a game again after all the sufferings, all the pain,” he said. “It was hard, but I am very happy to be here.”

Pineda said signing with the Sounders, which came March 5 after a month in preseason training camp, has made him feel like a rookie again. It’s a bonus chapter in a career that has featured multiple stops in Liga MX, the top league in Mexico, and 45 appearances for the national team, including four games in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

That quality and experience led to Saturday’s introduction, even if Pineda will need two or three more weeks to be able to play a full 90 minutes. Early feedback, though, has been good, particularly with Evans in doubt for Saturday’s road game at Montreal with a bruised calf.

“I thought he did a great job filling in for Brad,” said midfielder Lamar Neagle. “He’s very attack-minded, which is nice. His first thought is to go forward.”

Added coach Sigi Schmid: “He still needs to gain a little bit on his fitness, but I thought his passing helped us. His vision is good.”

Even pre-surgery, Pineda was interested in a move to MLS, a league he sees as constantly improving as world-class stars join every year. As a young player, he had always envisioned leaving Mexico, but dreams then were centered on Europe.

Attention turned north of the border after the 2012-2013 season, his last with Mexican club Queretaro (also when the sports hernia became an issue). Pineda tried to play through the injury during a summer tryout with the Chicago Fire, but it became clear that regular treatment and therapy weren’t enough — surgery was needed.

After recovery and reflection, an opportunity came with the Sounders.

Said Pineda, who learned English in part by watching movies with subtitles and listening to music: “It’s a new experience, it’s a new way to think, it’s a different way to see soccer, so I want to try that.”


• U.S. women’s national team stars Hope Solo, Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe and Stephanie Cox joined Reign FC preseason training camp Monday. Game tickets for the upcoming National Women’s Soccer League season, which starts April 12, went on sale this week.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @joshuamayers.