Saturday’s Chicago Fire-Real Salt Lake match brought a battle between two goalkeepers who could eventually be on either side of the storied United States-Mexico rivalry.
Seventeen-year-old Chicago Fire goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina outdueled Real Salt Lake’s former U.S. men’s national team prospect David Ochoa, who recently opted to join Mexico’s national team. The Fire won 1-0 with a goal from Robert Beric as Slonina earned a shutout and fought away 16 shots from RSL.
“I think first and foremost it’s always about the team, so whoever gets Man of the Match, of course, it’s a great thing for him,” Slonina said. “But, yeah, it’s an amazing feeling, an unreal feeling to be a Man of the Match and yeah, I’m going to continue to improve and work moving forward.”
The best save of the night came in the 60th minute. Slonina stretched high to make an outstanding save of a header from Michael Chang off a corner kick.
USMNT fans will have taken added enjoyment from Slonina out-dueling Ochoa, who had an impressive match in goal and who recently chose to play for the Mexican national team program. The RSL goalkeeper spent years in the U.S. youth national team setup and most recently serving as a member of the USMNT Nations League-winning team in June, but his decision to represent Mexico has opened the door for other young American goalkeepers to climb up the national team charts.
Slonina is just such a player, and his impressive showings this season has the teenager looking like the best young American goalkeeper prospect in the pipeline. He started his first career game early in the season, and the Homegrown player from Addison, Illinois, has started the past eight games in a row.
“He’s a young goalkeeper by age but really, for me, it really doesn’t matter,” Interim Fire head coach Frank Klopas said of Slonina. “If you have the quality to play, you will play. Age doesn’t really matter, I mean, you can just see how good (he is). … So what I liked a lot was his composure and his work ethic and, for a 17 year old kid, he’s very mature.”
Veteran goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth started most Fire games this season. Klopas said Slonina has taken advice and directions from Shuttleworth and Fire goalkeeper coach Adin Brown.
“He constantly works with Adin all the time whether it’s on the pitch or with video analysis and stuff like that, so more than anything for me it’s that he’s got a tremendous future,” Klopas said. “This was just the beginning. But he knows it’s all about the hard work and, and I just like his maturity level and and obviously, his ability, you know, he stepped up big tonight when he had to.”
The Fire are on a three-match unbeaten streak since the club’s awful form in August and September wiped away playoff hopes. Slonina had three shutouts in the past eight matches.
“I think we used that energy from Cincinnati to push us in this game and you know, it’s the end of the season but I think we’re still finishing strong and fighting every single game, which I love,” Slonina said.