Goalie Gabriel Slonina’s debut a positive development for Fire

During his first start, the Addison native played like he belonged, making four saves against one of the league’s hottest teams.

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Gabriel Slonina made four saves in his MLS debut Wednesday.

Courtesy of the Fire

After the Fire’s 0-0 tie Wednesday, goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina shared a moment with New York City FC counterpart Sean Johnson. Not only was he part of the United States’ Gold Cup champion, but Johnson spent seven seasons with the Fire and established himself as one of the better goalies in team history.

Opposing Johnson clearly meant something to the 17-year-old Slonina, the Homegrown signing who became the youngest starting goalie in MLS history.

“That was so awesome,” Slonina said. “I was looking forward to that at the beginning of the game. Him being here and with the national team, it’s just awesome to even play against a goalkeeper like that because I think he has so much talent and I just think he’s an awesome goalkeeper.”

During his first start, the Addison native played like he belonged, making four saves against one of the league’s hottest teams. At 6-4 and 194 pounds, Slonina also looks the part of a starting goalie and already has the trust of the players in front of him.

“When he is behind me on the field, I feel like there’s a 30-year-old man behind me,” defender Mauricio Pineda said. “His voice is heard, he’s always loud, he’s communicating, so I don’t feel like there’s a 17-year-old goalkeeper playing behind me when he’s there. That gives off a lot of confidence.”

Like Slonina, Pineda’s arrival as a Homegrown was anticipated. And when Pineda emerged last season, it was a bolt of positive energy for the team and its fans. Maybe Slonina’s emergence was, too.

“It makes the club really proud for the type of players that they’re bringing up from the academy,” Pineda said. “And to show at that age that they’re that prepared and that relaxed to not only have a solid performance but have a shutout in your first start, of course everyone’s proud of him.”

Incumbent Bobby Shuttleworth, who missed the game with a left knee issue, has been one of the Fire’s best players and has done nothing to lose his job.

However, with the Fire’s playoff odds at 4% on Thursday, per FiveThirtyEight, perhaps they have nothing to lose by giving their goalie of the future more playing time now.

Coach Raphael Wicky said Shuttleworth is the Fire’s No. 1 goalie and has had “really, really great games for us.”

“Right now, we will see how Bobby’s knee reacts, how the season goes; there are a lot of games coming,” Wicky said. “We have all these away trips, and we will see what minutes Gaga will get and decide that game-by-game and week-by-week.”

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