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The Chicago Fire’s 18-year-old star goalkeeper, Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina, will represent the United States internationally, he announced this afternoon.
Slonina is from Addison, Ill., and was born to Polish parents, making him eligible to represent either nation. He played for the U.S. at the youth levels, and was a backup keeper for USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter in the January 2022 World Cup qualifying games.
After a recent visit to Chicago by the head of the Polish Federation where Slonina was presented with a Poland jersey featuring his name and the No.1, there was some speculation he would opt to play for his parents’ birthplace.
But in an announcement Friday, Slonina put an end to the speculation.
“… my heart is American,” Slonina wrote. “This country has given me and my family all the opportunities I could ask for. It’s pushed me and supported me through good and bad. I understand the privilege of wearing the badge, and the only time I’ll put my head down is to kiss it. America is home and that’s who I’m going to represent.”
Slonina has struggled in the last few games for the Fire, but is still considered one of the best goalkeeping prospects in the world. He could be in play for a spot on the 2022 USMNT World Cup roster this November in Qatar, and would have to be among the favorites to be the U.S. No. 1 goalkeeper for the 2026 World Cup that will be hosted in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
If things don’t work out, Slonina still has some wiggle room to switch. Because he’s under 21, he would need to play in three competitive matches for the U.S., or one World Cup or confederation competition (the Concacaf Gold Cup or Nations League) to be cap-tied.
Despite today’s announcement, Slonina was not on the 27 player roster called in by Berhalter for the USMNT’s last round of matches on American soil before the World Cup.
Fire in New York
After Wednesday night’s 3-3 draw with the New York Red Bulls that saw Slonina struggle mightily on two of New York’s three goals, Fire head coach Ezra Hendrickson was quick to publicly back his player.
“He’s still our No. 1,” Hendrickson said of Slonina. “We need to put our arms around him, let him know we feel confident in him.”
The Fire return to New York on Sunday afternoon–this time to take on the defending champions New York City FC. The Yankees are in town, so the game has been bumped from Yankee Stadium to the Mets’ Citi Field. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. CT, and the game is on WGN.
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