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One positive situation developing for Fire

As confirmed by the growth of goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina and attacker Brian Gutierrez, the Fire’s developmental system under academy technical director Cedric Cattenoy continues to produce tangible results.

The emergence of Brian Gutierrez was a positive for the Fire.
Courtesy of the Fire

There really weren’t too many positives for the Fire in 2021. Coach Raphael Wicky was dumped in September in the middle of another lost season, and the Fire parted company with nine players after their last game, signaling yet another rebuild after the first core constructed by sporting director Georg Heitz failed to produce.

Yet there was one part of the Fire that did deliver and provided some reason for optimism moving forward.

As shown by the development of goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina and attacker Brian Gutierrez, the Fire’s development system under academy technical director Cedric Cattenoy continued to bring tangible results. Both Homegrowns, Slonina and Gutierrez were bright spots this year and figure to be even bigger parts in 2022.

“I think it’s a big step, signing all these Homegrowns,” Gutierrez said. “I think it’s good for us. It gives us motivation and motivation towards the next future people that are coming. I think it’s exciting, and it’s an honor to represent this club, and it’s an honor to represent my hometown.”

Slowed by injuries and perhaps overshadowed by Slonina’s ascent, Gutierrez showed flashes that he could be a productive MLS player sooner rather than later. After making six appearances in 2020, he played 17 times (six starts) this year. He had his first career assist Oct. 16 against the Supporters’ Shield-winning New England Revolution, and generally was noticeable when he got onto the field.

“Well, I think this 2021 season, it’s been, I mean, baby steps towards what I set as last year’s goals,” Gutierrez said. “Like getting more minutes, starting games. I think it’s been a good, progressive season for me.”

That progress earned Gutierrez, along with Slonina and Homegrown forward Missael Rodriguez, a call-up to the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team for the Revelations Cup in Celaya, Mexico, that ended Tuesday.

And while Slonina and Gutierrez were the most visible signs of progress on the youth front, they weren’t the only ones.

In July, the Fire’s U-19 Academy team, coached by Ludovic Taillandier, won the inaugural MLS NEXT Cup championship when it beat Solar SC 1-0. Rodriguez, who scored a tournament-best six goals to earn the event’s Golden Boot, connected in the 80th minute to clinch the title. Teammate Sergio Oregel Jr. was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player.

Both Rodriguez and Oregel inked Homegrown contracts by the end of the season, making it eight the team has signed since the beginning of 2020. Cattenoy, who joined the Fire in 2016 after working at French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain, was handed a contract extension through 2024.

“To see the development of our academy players, the Homegrown players getting playing time and the U-19 team win a national championship is very motivating,” Cattenoy said in a news release when the agreement was announced in July. “And it’s a testament to the hard work and commitment from all of our players, coaches and staff.”

It’s also a positive for a club that hasn’t had many of those recently.