Gabriel Slonina sale to Chelsea only half of important day for Chicago soccer
If not for Slonina’s impending move, Saturday would’ve already been a positive moment for soccer in this area as the Fire and Red Stars played on the same day in the same venue for the first time since 2019.
Saturday was a pretty consequential day for Chicago soccer.
A few minutes after the Fire’s 0-0 draw with Atlanta United and before the Red Stars’ 1-0 loss to Alex Morgan and the San Diego Wave during a Soldier Field doubleheader, news broke that goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, 18, is on the verge of being sold to English Premier League club Chelsea and loaned back.
The sale is believed to be for a $10 million base fee, and the loan allows the Addison native to finish the season with the Fire before the 2021 European champions decide what’s next for him.
“There’s something close, but nothing has been signed yet, so I can’t really speak on that,” Fire coach Ezra Hendrickson said. “But there’s something very close to happening with that.”
According to a report from world soccer insider Fabrizio Romano, Slonina will fly to London on Sunday with his agent to take a medical and complete the deal before joining Chelsea on Jan. 1. Even though the transaction isn’t official yet, the clubs have reached a verbal pact, and the long-running saga appears to be nearing its end.
“I don’t really know the full details of it, but I know ‘Gaga’ will be with us for the rest of the year,” Hendrickson said. “Something is very close to happening, and I think the kid deserves it.”
Considered one of the best young keepers in the world, Slonina reportedly drew interest from Real Madrid and other European powerhouses. His decision this spring to commit to the U.S. national team instead of Poland made headlines on two continents, but through everything, Slonina has remained composed.
That’s something Fire winger Chris Mueller has noticed since becoming his teammate.
“He’s got a great future ahead of him,’’ Mueller said. ‘‘He’s a great young player. His head’s on his shoulders. He does the right things. He has good habits. He takes care of his body. For his age, he’s an example to a lot of the guys in the locker room, for sure, in the way that he is professional.
“I have no doubt that no matter what lies ahead of him, he’s going to handle it well.”
Even before Slonina’s impending move was stealing the headlines, this was shaping up as a big day for local soccer as the top two teams in the area were playing in the same venue for the first time since 2019.
The second half of the doubleheader saw the Red Stars play their first game within city limits, furthering their relationship with the Fire despite not sharing ownership. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, wearing a white Red Stars jersey, even showed up at halftime of the Fire game and took part in a ceremony before the Red Stars’ game. Most of the crowd of 23,951 stuck around for the Red Stars and created a vibrant atmosphere.
Before the doubleheader, Red Stars fans were hard to miss around Soldier Field. Replica jerseys of the Red Stars’ top players were easy to spot, and more than a few fans wore Morgan shirts.
“[Promoting soccer in Chicago]is really important, too, because I think a lot of people are aware that the Red Stars exist but not really anything more than that,” Red Stars season-ticket holder Nick Manser said.
“Getting on the same stage as the Fire, and at Soldier Field, should be a big boost.”
Slonina’s future success also should give Chicago soccer a boost.