Chicago Fire FC homegrown goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina has drawn comparisons to Italian goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon, an analogy MLS and US men’s national team legend Tony Meola recently made on SiriusXM FC.
Slonina, 17, is coming off a breakout year with Chicago and made the USMNT’s roster for winter window Concacaf World Cup Qualifiers. This offseason he’s been linked to big-name European clubs like Juventus and Manchester United, signs of what could await a professional career that began in March 2019 as a 14-year-old (fifth-youngest signing in MLS history).
Now, Meola sees sky-high potential in the mold of Buffon, a 176-time capped Italy international who, at age 43, is still competing with Parma, the Serie A club where his career began.
“He reminds me very much of a young Gigi Buffon,” said Meola, the 2000 MLS MVP who won MLS Cup that year with the Kansas City Wizards. “You look at his body, you look at his movements – I had the chance to be in Parma when Gigi Buffon was there and I was there for four months training and trained with Gigi and stayed friends with him over the years. He is a guy that you could tell was going to work his way through anything, and that’s kind of what I see from [Slonina] and what I hear from everyone in and around the Chicago Fire.”
From Meola's perspective, it’s only a matter of time before Slonina is the USMNT’s No. 1 between the pipes – perhaps after the Qatar 2022 World Cup cycle. Slonina, who awaits his first senior cap, is also of Polish descent though Gregg Berhalter is clearly showing faith in the youngster via call-ups.
“He’s one day going to be the US men’s national team starting goalkeeper,” said Meola, who earned 100 USMNT caps and featured at several World Cups himself. “That’s dependent on what happens with Zack Steffen and Matt Turner and anyone else who emerges, but I don’t know it’s this World Cup.”
Slonina posted four clean sheets in 11 games for Chicago last year, a bright spot as they missed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and parted ways with head coach Raphael Wicky. Now with manager Ezra Hendrickson at the helm, a pivotal role awaits again.
This trajectory is bound to draw scouts’ interest, with Slonina surely next in a pathway of lucrative transfers from MLS that’s skyrocketed during this winter transfer window behind striker Ricardo Pepi, winger Tajon Buchanan and more.
“I look at the pathway, and I think the pathway for him is that within the next 24 months he’s going to be in Europe and needs to be in Europe,” Meola said.
For more on Slonina, check out this story where he declared a desire to become the greatest goalkeeper in the world.