Gabriel Slonina sits, Chelsea scores late to tie Dortmund 1-1

Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino wanted to play incumbent starting goalie Kepa Arrizabalaga for the full 90 minutes in the team’s final preseason friendly, which drew 48,183 to Soldier Field.

SHARE Gabriel Slonina sits, Chelsea scores late to tie Dortmund 1-1
Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund line up before Wednesday’s match.

Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund line up before Wednesday’s match.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Former Fire goalkeeper Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina was eager to be back in Chicago with the English Premier League’s Chelsea.

“It feels amazing for me to come from the Chicago Fire and visit my home city with Chelsea. It’s amazing,” Slonina said Monday. “I know that the Chelsea fan base here in Chicago is huge. I’m just really excited to be there Wednesday night and to experience that atmosphere.”

Unfortunately, he experienced it from the bench.

Slonina did not play in Chelsea’s 1-1 tie with Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday night in front of 48,183 at Soldier Field. Chelsea found the equalizer in the 89th minute thanks to Mason Burstow, after Marius Wolf gave Dortmund the lead nine minutes earlier.

Instead of using Slonina in his hometown, Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino played incumbent starter Kepa Arrizabalaga for the full 90 minutes in the team’s final preseason friendly before kicking off the Premier League season Aug. 13 against Liverpool.

“Because [the first regular season game] is only 10 days, our last game [of the preseason] I wanted to test Kepa [for] 90 minutes,” Pochettino said.

Slonina, who signed with Chelsea exactly a year ago Wednesday, would have added to the vibe. But he wasn’t the only attraction.

Korrey Dickens traveled from Milwaukee to see Wednesday’s match. Even though he’s been to a Chelsea match in London, he wasn’t going to miss a chance to see his club.

Judging by all the Chelsea blue in and around Soldier Field, he wasn’t alone.

“I love it,” Dickens said. “Soccer is a universal game so you get people from all walks of life that get to come and enjoy it. Obviously, being a Chelsea fan it’s good to see more blue than [Dortmund] yellow out here, as well.”

That sight would be encouraging for any Premier League executive as the league continues to make inroads into the US market.

Chelsea and London rival Crystal Palace have played in the Chicago area this summer. Other heavyweights have stopped here in years past, and it would be surprising if more didn’t make appearances in the future.

Even though these friendlies vary in quality depending on the lineups, they serve a valuable purpose for American fans.

“Bringing it to America makes it accessible for us,” said Phil Fehlen, who traveled from the Twin Cities for the match. “It’s not an eight-hour flight over to London. I love it.”

Dickens echoed that, albeit with a twist.

“I wish it was only Chelsea flags they were planting, but obviously anything that can get the game exposure, I think it’s a good thing especially here in America,” Dickens said. “It seems to be exploding more and more.”

The big crowd Wednesday proved that. Pochettino noticed what the supporters brought.

“The fans were fantastic,” Pochettino said.

If players like Slonina succeed in England, that link with North American fans will only get stronger. He knows that in London, he’s an ambassador for American soccer. And in Chicago, he’s a representative of the Premier League.

“Going over to London and being from Chicago, it’s a big responsibility for me to represent Chicago in the right way,” Slonina said. “I think Chicago is a very hard-working city with people from all over the world, so for me to be there and be able to represent them in my own way, I think it’s a high responsibility I hold myself to. It keeps me accountable. I just like to put in that hard work every day and show where I came from.”

On Wednesday, Slonina didn’t get to represent Chelsea on the field in Chicago.

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