‘Hectic’ year propels Fire goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina to Chelsea deal

Over the last 12 months, Slonina has become the Fire’s No. 1 goalie, picked the U.S. over Poland and signed with an English powerhouse.

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Gabriel Slonina signed with Chelsea but will finish the season with the Fire.

Courtesy of the Fire

On Aug. 4, 2021, Gabriel Slonina made his first MLS start. Since then, Slonina has emerged as the Fire’s top goalkeeper, picked the United States national team after a public courtship from Poland and been sold for eight figures to one of Europe’s elite clubs.

Yes, it’s been quite an eventful 12 months for Slonina.

“It’s been a hectic year but that’s the sport I play,” Slonina said Friday in his first media availability after becoming a Chelsea player and getting loaned back to the Fire. “That’s the life I want to live and I’m super grateful and super honored that what’s happened has happened. Hopefully we can keep on going in the right direction.”

Over the last year, Slonina’s profile has risen. Even as the Fire have leaned on him to be their starting goalie and one of the faces of the franchise, Slonina’s taken everything in stride. His one blip – errors in May that cost the Fire points against FC Cincinnati and the New York Red Bulls – ended when he cleared his head by committing to the US and removing that major distraction.

Clearly gifted physically, Slonina learned over the past 12 months how to be a professional. He’s figured out how to deal with the ups and downs of being a goalie in soccer, where any mistake is magnified. Perhaps most importantly, he’s gotten reps in games to show what he can do but also apply his newfound knowledge.

“You can train as much as you want but having that game experience I think is most important,” Slonina said. “So as a player, I gained a lot of experience to manage games and what position to put myself to make a good save and where I need to be and how to read players. I think as a person and a player, I’ve matured and grown a lot in the past year.”

That maturity, which was already apparent when he debuted last August, will help Slonina as he moves forward. It also helped him weather the chaos surrounding Chelsea’s pursuit of his signature. Per reports, the London club had been chasing Slonina since January but the forced sale by owner Roman Abramovich delayed any move.

Slonina even used that as a learning experience.

“There’s going to be lots of moments, it won’t be the last time where I have moments like that in my career,” Slonina said. “So, I’ve gone through it now, so I know how to handle it and how to bounce back from it because obviously that’s the most important. You have to keep playing and stay confident with yourself and your ability and know that it’s just a little bump in the road.”

What’s next for Slonina after the Fire season ends isn’t entirely clear. He’ll link up with Chelsea on Jan. 1, but is a candidate to be loaned out to a lower-division club to keep developing against live competition. On Wednesday, Fire sporting director Georg Heitz sounded open to taking Slonina back on another loan for 2023, though he said that hasn’t been discussed yet with Chelsea.

Whatever Slonina does next, it will be the product of a surreal year when he had to make life-altering decisions while most people his age are preparing for college.

“To be honest it still doesn’t really feel real,” Slonina said. “It’s unbelievable, joining a big club like [Chelsea].”

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