Our associates at SB Nation’s Chicago Fire weblog, Hot Time In Old Town have graciously supplied to reply a couple of questions for us about Chelsea’s latest goalkeeper signing, the 18-year-old Gabriel Slonina, the younger man they only name “Gaga”.
So who is that this bold participant, who’s setting the document sheets on hearth and retaining the Fire’s sheets clear within the course of? What’s his story, his strengths, his weaknesses, and what would possibly the long run maintain for him and the Blues?
Big due to Alex Calabrese for his time and reply. Be positive to offer him a observe on Twitter @amcalabrese12 and take a look at HTIOT as effectively.
WAGNH: Slonina definitely comes throughout as a assured, bold, and clearly gifted younger participant, however how did it even come about that a youngster can be the beginning goalkeeper for the Fire? This hardly ever occurs in any prime flight.
HTIOT: Slonina signed with the membership in 2019, and has been coaching with the primary crew since he was 14 years previous. He entered the 2021 MLS season because the Fire’s #3 goalkeeper, however a season-ending harm to the starter, Kenneth Kronholm, meant he would sit on the bench for many of the yr. MLS’ lack of relegation performed into Slonina’s arms as a result of when the Fire have been eradicated from playoff competition within the fall, the 17-year-old was named the starter for the remainder of the yr. The thought was that the ultimate stretch may very well be used to construct in direction of the subsequent season. In that span, he actually excelled, and he notched 4 clear sheets from 11 matches. In 2022, he has been locked in because the #1 and has been the most effective goalies in MLS this season at simply 18; he has 10 clear sheets in 23 matches because the Fire make a late playoff push.
WAGNH: He’s been “Gabriel” to date in English media, however principally “Gaga” on the opposite aspect of the pond. Is the nickname that effectively established and generally used? And are there any accessible crossover advertising and marketing alternatives with Lady Gaga?
HTIOT: The man himself would let you know that each variations of his identify are wonderful, however for the membership and the followers right here within the US, he is just about at all times been Gaga. Similar to how he’s a novel breed of goalkeeper, having that distinctive nickname and model simply appears to suit. It is obvious that when Lady Gaga’s tour visits Chicago later this month, there is a chance for some collaboration!
WAGNH: Slonina suits the Chelsea mildew of tall, sturdy, dominant goalkeepers already, however what are his best strengths in the mean time?
HTIOT: Slonina has all of the bodily attributes you need out of a goalkeeper, standing at 6’4” and he instructions his field very effectively. He is a superb shot stopper and is thought to make some actually distinctive saves that are good for the spotlight reel. His reactions are glorious, and his instincts are primarily unmatched amongst MLS goalkeepers. Gaga can also be one of many hardest working gamers you’ll ever see, and he has a superb mentality and persona that ought to make him a fan favourite in West London.
WAGNH: Conversely, being so younger nonetheless, he certainly has a ton of room left to develop. What are his present weaknesses and the place do you see him enhancing as he grows older and will get uncovered to non-MLS soccer?
HTIOT: The excellent news is that whereas Gaga nonetheless has a number of work to do to achieve his full potential, the areas wherein he wants to enhance are ones that normally get higher with time. The largest space is taking part in out of the again; he’s competent together with his toes, however his distribution at present is not going to be ok at a better degree than MLS. His positioning and decision-making is also higher, however that may include time and expertise.
WAGNH: Having declared for the USMNT, he is set to observe within the footsteps of a number of nice US goalkeepers prior to now couple of a long time who had discovered success within the Premier League. Who amongst them does Slonina finest resemble, if anybody, and who can be a great comparability to him from amongst all of the legends of the place wherever on the earth?
HTIOT: The legendary US goalkeeper Tony Meola has usually in contrast Slonina to a younger Gigi Buffon, and that comparability, whereas definitely very excessive reward, matches when it comes to taking part in model. Amongst American goalies within the Premiership, he’s in all probability most just like Tim Howard as a result of he manages to make seemingly not possible saves at occasions, and has elite reflexes. Unlike earlier American keepers in England like Howard, Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan, and Zack Steffen, who arrived near their primes, Gaga continues to be younger sufficient that he may very well be molded into the goalkeeper that Chelsea needs and he’s removed from the completed product.
WAGNH: His switch to Chelsea appears to have been taken as some extent of delight by the Chicago Fire group, not least for the tens of millions obtained in return, however how do the followers really feel about all of it?
HTIOT: Chicago is the third largest metropolis within the US, however in virtually all points, the Fire has dramatically underperformed for the final decade. The undeniable fact that the academy has produced such an elite prospect, now sure for one of many largest golf equipment on the earth, is of course a terrific achievement for the group, which has put a giant emphasis on younger gamers. When Fire followers noticed such a participant coming by, they knew it was an inevitability that he would at some point go away, and so they felt pleased with the native boy making his approach to a crew like Chelsea. The Fire are also in a very distinctive state of affairs, as a result of except for Gaga, there’s one other elite goalkeeping expertise within the pipeline, Chris Brady; Slonina’s alternative is already on the membership, and he’s additionally somebody who might additionally go away for an eight-figure payment a couple of years down the road.
WAGNH: Slonina’s set to complete out the season with the Fire, then be part of Chelsea in January for good. How do you see him getting on in London in these first few months, and the way do you see his profession growing past that? He appears to have his sights set on changing into one of the best on the earth, do you suppose he can get there at Chelsea?
HTIOT: The Fire’s sporting director, Georg Heitz, didn’t rule out bringing Slonina again to Chicago for a second mortgage in January, however these discussions haven’t but been held. The plan appears to be for him to spend his first few years as a Chelsea participant growing, whether or not that be as a backup or on mortgage elsewhere. The hope can be that he can push for the beginning job at Chelsea inside a few years and for the nationwide crew by the 2026 World Cup, however that additionally will depend on Édouard Mendy and the goalkeeping state of affairs on the membership. Slonina has mentioned on quite a few events that he has ambitions of being one of the best goalkeeper on the planet, and he completely has the expertise to do it.
Thanks once more to Alex, and good luck to Gaga and the Fire the remainder of this season and, hopefully, the MLS playoffs as effectively.
And should you’re nonetheless right here, you should definitely watch Gaga’s farewell letter to the Fire. It’s glorious.