With their playoff hopes shot and their coach dismissed, the Fire don’t have too many attainable goals left for 2021. But one thing they can do is see what they have in certain players for 2022.
Some of those players are obvious and could at least represent some value in the final weeks of an otherwise lost season.
Slonina, 17, is clearly the Fire’s goalkeeper of the future. Earlier this year, he became the youngest starting goalie in MLS history and is getting the starts in net.
There have been some hiccups — notably the game-winning goal he allowed to New England’s Carles Gil on Sept. 22 — but Slonina looks as though he could live up to the hype. Beyond his size (6-4, 194), he has a presence beyond his years, both on the field and with the media. The exposure he’s gaining now will be helpful later — something he and the Fire both know. Such was the case with Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Toronto FC.
“Every game is a learning experience, and I’m learning something new, whether it’s a win, draw, loss, but the biggest thing for me is to, I think, never get comfortable when we are up 1-0,” Slonina said. “Things can change any second, any minute. I think it’s about staying focused and engaged the entire night.”
Whether he starts next season or works in tandem with Bobby Shuttleworth or another keeper, Slonina will be ahead of where he would have been if not for playing this final stretch of matches.
Officially signed Aug. 6, Navarro could be the energetic, ball-winning midfielder the Fire have lacked since captain Dax McCarty was traded after the 2019 season. Despite joining the team in the middle of the year, Navarro, 21, has slotted into the center of the formation and shown signs he could be a key piece.
These games are valuable for him as he gets used to MLS, which has a different pace than what he previously experienced.
“What I found here was a very quick game,” he said through a translator. “Maybe in Argentina, the game isn’t as quick — it’s a little bit more settled. But here, it’s very quick, it’s very physical, and it’s what I expected. So I’m just doing whatever I can to be able to adapt quickly so that I can keep growing and keep adding to the team.”
Ivanov, 22, has started just five times this season, the last time on Sept. 19. Signed in the offseason, he missed the first half because of a knee injury and has generally been quiet since returning.
If he’s healthy, the Fire should try to get him more playing time down the stretch. Unfortunately for him and the team, the Fire can’t really know yet how Ivanov fits. An increase in minutes could bring answers.