Chicago Fire's Gabriel Slonina: I want to be the greatest goalkeeper in the world

Gabriel Slonina has taken MLS by storm during the second half of the 2021 season, with the 17-year-old homegrown goalkeeper one of the brightest spots in a disappointing campaign for Chicago Fire FC.

Slonina, who has four clean sheets in 10 appearances, sat down with Sebastian Salazar from ESPN’s Futbol Americas to talk about his trajectory to first-team starter.

“I always believed in myself from the start. It was good the time came now and I’m using it to my advantage and getting every opportunity I can and squeezing the most out of it,” Slonina said. "I was always preparing for this moment and giving my all every day in training, in everyday life outside of training, making sure I’m doing the right things. I always believed in myself, and this moment’s amazing that it came, but I think I was prepared for it and always put in the work to make sure the opportunity I get, I take good care of it.”

Always big for his age, Slonina said he was drawn to playing goalkeeper when he was young because of the position’s unique responsibilities.

“Everyone wants to score the perfect goal, but something inside me just wants to save the perfect shot, make that perfect save,” he said. “That mentality of you’re all alone back there is something that sticks out to me. I like to have the game on the line, make a big save. It’s a tough position because everyone will remember the one mistake you make and not the 10 saves you could have made before that.”

Slonina became the youngest starting goalkeeper in MLS history when he backstopped Chicago during a 0-0 draw against New York City FC at Soldier Field on August 4.

“It's absolutely amazing because all that work you put in before, it almost feels like it pays off,” Slonina said. "But you have to stay ready, stay focused, stay calm, know that you prepared for this moment. It’s difficult to say, but you have to play good when good once you get that chance. You have to prove you’re ready and show to the coaches and your teammates they can trust in you back there.”

While Slonina is pleased with the jump he's made personally this season, he's balancing that with a disappointing campaign for Chicago, which ends without an Audi MLS Cup Playoff appearance for a fourth straight year.

“Obviously it was a difficult season and individually it's good what I've done and the performances I’ve put in, but obviously you want the team to perform first and foremost,” he said. "It’s all about the team and making sure we can improve and be better next season.”

While Slonina sets the loftiest goals for himself, he's not looking too far into the future. Thoughts of a possible move to Europe or deciding on what senior national team to play for – he’s represented the US on the youth levels, but he's also of Polish descent – aren’t on his mind today.

It's all about the next match, a Decision Day clash with the Columbus Crew on Sunday (3:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).

“I strive to want to be the greatest goalkeeper in the world,” Slonina said. “So I think I'm just going to keep putting in that work, making sure I take the right steps toward that direction every single day.”