Gaga Slonina shows why Chelsea await in 9-save performance for Chicago Fire

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Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina once again showed why he’s arguably the best prospect in MLS.

The 18-year-old goalkeeping phenom, who will join English Premier League side Chelsea this winter after the 2022 MLS season via a reported $10 million deal, put on a heroic performance for Chicago Fire FC in a 0-0 draw against Columbus Crew Saturday evening at Field.

The visitors were outshot by a wide margin (25-6), forcing the US international into making nine saves, including several highlight-reel-worthy stops to preserve the tie. The clean sheet was his 12th of the season, which puts Slonina third in MLS, an impressive feat considering he’s the youngest starter in the league.

Afterward, Slonina received some well-earned praise from Fire head coach Ezra Hendrickson.

“He’s always been a good ‘keeper, hence why he signed a contract with Chelsea, but he came up with another great performance – again,” said the first-year manager. “I think that’s his 12th shutout this year, so we know that he’s a good goalkeeper, has been good all year for us, so we’re happy to have him.”

The road point keeps the Fire’s slim Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs hopes alive. With five league matches remaining, Chicago are 13th in the Eastern Conference table on 32 points, six points and six places back of a postseason return.

When asked about his individual performance after the match, Slonina focused more on the collective outlook.

“At the end of the day, we want to make the playoffs,” said Slonina, after the homegrown star made a career-high nine saves.

“I’m happy for the accolade, but it’d be better if I made three saves and we got the win. I think the clean sheet is nice, but […] we want to get as much points as possible, so going for the win I think is most important.”

It was a level-headed response from a player who has proven to be mature beyond his years.

Upon turning pro in March 2019 as a 14-year-old, Slonina was the second-youngest player signing in MLS history. During the 2021 season, he became the youngest goalkeeper in MLS history to notch a clean sheet, a win and a start.

He has been Chicago’s starter for just over a year now, enjoying a meteoric rise from a talented youngster to a world-renowned prospect who has posted 16 clean sheets in 40 matches for Fire FC.

The Illinois native will spend the remainder of the 2022 MLS season on loan with Chicago before joining Chelsea at the start of 2023. He’s penned a six-year contract with the Blues through 2028, and Chicago retain a percentage of any future transfer fee Chelsea receives for Slonina.

The youngster has handled the pressure incredibly since officially completing his move to the Blues, something he attributes to remaining in the moment and focused on what’s in front of him.

“For me, it’s about doing my best every single game and just staying in the moment and doing what I can for my team to come out and get the three points,” Slonina said. “So, I think I’m just going to continue to focus on every single match at hand because I think in the end that’ll prepare me for what’s to come.”