BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – When Paolo Tornaghi was seven years old, his club team in northern Italy didn’t have a goalkeeper, so he jumped into the goal one day when his teammates were shooting at an open net, impressed the coaches and earned the starting job for the rest of the season.
Sixteen years later, Tornaghi’s situation is not entirely different.
The 23-year-old Chicago Fire goalkeeper impressed his coaches enough during preseason to earn the team’s starting spot while Sean Johnson is away at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
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Tornaghi has been excellent in Johnson's stead, allowing just one goal in the first two games of the season, including a shutout in the Fire's 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night.
“He’s a great shot-stopper and his composure is excellent for his age,” defender Cory Gibbs said. “That plays a lot for him playing for a big team in Europe. His composure every day is great and that’s big for a goalie.”
For most of Saturday’s match, Tornaghi wasn’t forced to do much. In fact, the Union didn’t have a shot on target in the first half and didn’t threaten early in the second.
But the Inter Milan youth product was called into action to preserve three points late in a game that was more one-sided than the score indicated. Union midfielder Gabriel Gómez put two screaming free kicks on frame in the last 10 minutes, forcing two fingertip saves from Tornaghi.
“Paolo was super,” coach Frank Klopas said.
Tornaghi’s career has had its fair share of frustrations. After joining the youth system at Inter when he was nine and signing with the club when he was 17, Tornaghi bounced around Italy on different loan assignments and reserve teams.
Finally, he has a chance to shine in a first-team environment.
His time in the spotlight may be short-lived – Tornaghi has impressed his coaches, but probably not enough to unseat Johnson, who will return after the Fire’s next game.
But the thought of Johnson’s return, Tornaghi said, isn’t even on his mind.
“Honestly, I don’t think about it,” he said. “I want to play the game that I can play. Coach [Klopas] now is giving me a chance from the beginning. When Sean comes back from the national team, we’ll see what the coach decides. Either way, it’s not a problem. No matter what, I’ll train every day and get better.”