By James Rhys.
Gabriel ‘Gaga’ Slonina has achieved more in the past six months than most could even begin to dream of.
On August 4, 2021, aged just 17 years and 81 days, the Illinois native made his professional debut for the Chicago Fire, replacing an injured Bobby Shuttleworth and becoming the league’s youngest starting goaltender.
Since then he has quickly become one of the hottest prospects in world football, and his form between the sticks in the second half of last season earned him a call-up to the United States as well as admiring glances from Europe’s top clubs.
— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) August 4, 2021
Having tasted such success so early in his career, and with several English and European clubs reportedly battling for his signature in the off-season, there is always a risk the rapid rise could go to a youngster’s helm. player.
But any concerns were quickly dispelled when Slonina spoke to the media from the club’s training camp in Austin, Texas on Tuesday.
“I still have a lot to prove,” he said. “I don’t like to think of myself as the number one starter now. I still have to give my all in training every day and perform and train at my best to continue to prove that I can have this No. 1 spot.
“The level of training and the mindset that I go into every training session will be the same as last season because, again, it’s this constant desire to improve and everything.
“The start of this season will be the same as last season, I will continue to give my all every day and continue to work my best.”
He may not like to think of himself as the number one starter, but the club’s coaching staff are clearly confident in his ability to cement his place between the poles, rewarding homegrown talent with a new squad number, the iconic #1, earlier. this week.
— GAGA (@GabrielSlonina) February 13, 2022
“Yeah, I mean, I like my number 32. I like number 1. Again, it’s about going to the first game to prove that I can wear that number 1 because, for me, it’s about going to the first game. is a big problem.
“It’s a great honor to wear number 1 for the Chicago Fire. It’s about going out and proving that I deserve it and now just putting on the performance and helping the team be as successful as possible for the season because I really think we can achieve great things This year.
Listening to Slonina speak, it’s incredibly easy to forget he’s only 17.
At 6-foot-4 and 194 pounds, it’s quite clear he’s matured physically, but he also possesses a mentality and maturity that belies his age.
He is humble, professional and has a prodigious work ethic, repeatedly emphasizing the need to keep working, to eat well, to take care of your body, to keep learning from coach and father figure, Adin Brown.
But don’t be fooled. Slonina is confident, competitive, ambitious and is aiming for a successful second season with the new Chicago Fire.
“I feel good for the season. I like the energy that the coaching staff and the guys bring,” he adds.
“I think the right attitude and mentality in training every day is there. I’m super excited about the guys we’ve signed and the coaching staff.
“I think this season is going to be very, very successful and I think we’re going to achieve great things this year.
“I will continue to work every day. But at the end of the year, I want to win the MLS Cup and I want to do great things with this club this year.
“I want to make sure we give it our all on and off the pitch because that’s ultimately what’s going to push us to be the top performers this year.”