Since parting ways with Sean Johnson after the 2016 season, the Fire haven’t solved the goalkeeping position. While Johnson has emerged as one of the league’s better keepers with New York City FC, the Fire subsequently have started seven goalies with only limited success.
Bobby Shuttleworth, playing in place of Kenneth Kronholm (torn right ACL), figures to be the eighth when the Fire visit the Crew on Thursday to resume their season.
The Fire have plenty of goalies in reserve. Beyond Shuttleworth (under contract through 2021) and Kronholm (signed through 2021 with a 2022 team option), they have backup Connor Sparrow and youngsters Gabriel Slonina and Chris Brady under contract.
“I think on the goalie position, we are quite well,” coach Raphael Wicky said. “I feel very confident with those goalies, for now and as well for the future, with our young goalkeepers who are very, very talented.”
Kronholm, out for the season, joined the Fire last year and sputtered before finishing with five shutouts. Before his injury in practice, Kronholm had played in all five games this season, allowing five goals during the MLS is Back tournament.
The injury doesn’t affect Kronholm’s place in the Fire’s plans, Wicky said.
“Kenny is a really good goalkeeper with a lot of experience. He will come back,” Wicky said. “He will come back stronger and that’s also the goal he set for himself directly after actually having the injury on the same day. He told me he was very obviously touched emotionally, but he’s going to come back stronger. We count on Kenny.”
For now, the Fire will be counting on the 33-year-old Shuttleworth, an MLS veteran who made 181 league starts for the New England Revolution and Minnesota United FC from 2009-19.
“I obviously feel extremely bad for Kenny; it’s a tough situation for him,” Shuttleworth said. “Unfortunately, injuries are part of sports. It’s kind of a ‘next man up’ mentality. For me personally, since I’ve come here, and throughout my career, I’ve tried to prepare myself as if I’m playing in every game. I think this is no different.”
With all of that experience, Shuttleworth likely won’t see anything new when he plays for the Fire. He’s also familiar with defenders Francisco Calvo and Wyatt Omsberg during their time together in Minnesota, and has gotten to know the rest of the back line pretty well from training sessions and intrasquad scrimmages.
“At this point, we’re so far along that I feel very comfortable with everybody that plays along the back line,” Shuttleworth said. “I think we have a good group there.”