Chicago Fire interim boss Frank Klopas says young goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina has “scary” potential.
At just 17-years-old, Slonina has already overhauled Bobby Shuttleworth to become the Fire’s No.1 recently, making seven appearances since early August. The teenager became MLS’ youngest-ever goalkeeper and the youngest to keep a clean sheet on his debut in the Fire’s 0-0 draw with NYCFC.
Thus far, Slonina has conceded 1.43 goals per 90 minutes compared to Shuttleworth’s 1.65, while he’s also saved 70.6% of the shots he’s faced vs 67.3% by his older counterpart.
Slonina made no fewer than six saves as the Fire managed an impressive 2-2 draw away at runaway Supporters’ Shield leaders New England Revolution on Saturday. After the match, Klopas predicted we’ll still be talking about Slonina in 10-15 years’ time, hailing his maturity at such a young age.
“Yeah, he’s a young guy. I mean, it’s amazing… He’s 17, it’s incredible,” said Klopas. “But you can just see his maturity, and I think he’s a guy that Adin Brown, our goalkeeping coach, has done an unbelievable job with. But he’s very grounded.
“And also, Bobby, the veteran goalkeeper, who helps him all the time. So I think he has some great mentors, a great coach. And you know, with goalkeepers, look, you’re going to make some mistakes but he made some unbelievable saves and you need to learn. You need to play games.”
“He’s so young, it’s amazing. Maybe in 10, even 15 years, we’ll be talking about him and say, he’s hit his prime now,” Klopas added, laughing.
“It’s scary how good this kid can be and you know what, he deserves only the best. He’s a great kid. He’s very grounded, he’s very mature, and he’s got a tremendous, tremendous upside and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Slonina – who already has six caps for the United States across various youth levels – has previously praised the part Shuttleworth has played in his development.
“Bobby is such a good mentor for me, his discipline and consistency,” Slonina told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I just learned so much from him in terms of what it takes to be a professional goalkeeper, because no matter what, he was so consistent and disciplined and getting in the gym and recovering. I think I’ve learned so much from him and that’s part of why I’m performing.”
Though Shuttleworth himself was disappointed with ex-coach Raphael Wicky’s decision to drop him in favour of blooding youth, the 34-year-old has been understanding thanks to being afforded a similar chance earlier in his career.
“The same thing was done for me, so I wasn’t going to have a bad attitude about it and say that I didn’t think that this was right and all that,” Shuttleworth said.
“At the end of the day, this is professional sports and these guys have a plan and that’s what they decided to do. It was done for me, so I kind of understood. Although I wasn’t happy about it, I understood where it was coming from.”
Should he retain his spot, Slonina will be looking to equal Shuttleworth’s clean sheet count this season when the Fire travel to FC Cincinnati on Wednesday.