By starting 17-year-old goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina for a second consecutive game Wednesday, the Fire took another step toward hopefully better days. Though benching steady veteran Bobby Shuttleworth is a tacit admission that their playoff chances are toast, it’s understandable to get Slonina more playing time before the season ends.
Gaston Gimenez also got an opportunity, playing all 90 minutes and scoring a goal while adding an assist in the Fire’s 3-2 loss to the league-leading New England Revolution in front of an announced Soldier Field crowd of 7,052. A minute into second-half stoppage time in the Fire’s first home game after a 1-5-0 road trip, Carles Gil snuck a shot past Slonina, extending the Fire’s winless streak to four.
Despite that result, Wednesday was a good night for Slonina’s future. He should get a run of games down the stretch.
“These games are very important for him,” coach Raphael Wicky said. “I think he [had] a good game.
‘‘We will obviously analyze with Adin [Brown, the Fire’s goalkeeping coach] where he can do better, but these games are so important for him to grow and to learn and get more experience.”
As for Gimenez, there were questions about why he started after his one-game suspension for breaking a team rule. After the game, Gimenez said he made a “small error” to merit the punishment and said it’s something that has been discussed with the team.
“I respected the decision that was made, and I don’t have much more to say,” Gimenez said.
A designated player and the Fire’s second-highest earner at $2,358,667 in guaranteed compensation, per the MLS Players Association, Gimenez was left home for last Sunday’s loss to CF Montreal. But instead of keeping him sidelined another game, Wicky and the Fire chose to start Gimenez.
Wicky wasn’t holding any grudges against Gimenez or fellow designated player Ignacio Aliseda, who also was suspended for last Sunday but came on in the 60th minute.
“I said, they’re suspended for one game, and once that is done, they’re back in the team, and I treat them like every other player,” Wicky said.
While Gimenez has a 2022 club option that makes his Fire future murky, Slonina figures to be a part of the franchise for a long time. This game was another step in his maturation, and his growth could allow the Fire to get something out of the rest of another non-playoff season.
“[Slonina] getting minutes is very important for his development,” defender Jonathan Bornstein said. “Not only is he getting games and development, but he’s also playing very well.”
NOTE: Captain Francisco Calvo (right thigh) missed his fourth straight game.
Last Sunday, Wicky said Calvo’s recovery “will probably take awhile.”