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Heading into 2021, who’s the Chicago Fire’s number one goalkeeper?

The Fire will head to preseason with four goalkeepers on the first team roster

Chicago Fire FC v San Jose Earthquakes - MLS Is Back Tournament
Kenneth Kronholm of the Chicago Fire defends the goal against San Jose Earthquakes at the MLS is Back Tournament
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Raphael Wicky is planning on starting Chicago Fire preseason training at the end of this month. As we wait for a resolution to the collective bargaining dispute, the second-year coach can’t afford to be in a holding pattern. It’s business as usual, until it isn’t.

With that in mind, Wicky plans to head into the season with four first team goalkeepers: two veterans in their 30s—Bobby Shuttleworth and Kenneth Kronholm, and two teenagers—Gabriel Slonina and Chris Brady. The Fire’s other goalkeeper last season, Connor Sparrow, recently signed with Miami FC in the USL Championship.

“I’m very happy with our goalkeeper pool,” Wicky said. “And we decided to go with the two young kids this season because we believe in them, and we believe if you have good guys like that, at one point you gotta give them a chance.”

Wicky said Kronholm hasn’t fully recovered from the ACL tear he suffered in August of last season, so he’s planning on starting the preseason with Shuttleworth, Slonina and Brady.

“And if that’s the case, then Bobby is our number one,” Wicky said. “We’ll see how Kenny comes back from a very difficult injury. And then if he’s back, he will compete with Bobby, that’s for sure.”

As for the two 16-year-olds, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see at least one of them head out on loan to get regular first team minutes. Brady joined Forward Madison FC on loan last season, won the starting goalkeeper job midway through his time there, and ended up earning USL League One Young Player of the Year Honors. Meanwhile, “Gaga” Slonina stayed back in Chicago, earning a spot on the bench for a few matches last season, but did not see action.

Player movement was heavily regulated last season because of the pandemic. MLS didn’t want players shuffling back and forth between clubs, meaning once the decision was made to send Brady to Madison and keep Slonina in Chicago, that was it. The Fire didn’t have the flexibility to recall some players and send others to Madison, although they’re hoping to be able to do that in 2021. Forward Madison hasn’t officially been named the Fire’s USL affiliate for the 2021 season, although it’s extremely likely there will be an announcement on that front whenever the CBA is resolved.

Wicky said all of the Fire’s Homegrowns—not just the two goalkeepers, but the field players, too—will start the season in Chicago. He said he doesn’t just want them there to train. He wants all of them to give the coaching staff some difficult decisions.

“I told them to come in and compete for a spot, not to come in as the young Homegrowns,” Wicky said. “Come in and demand, go for a spot. Challenge these guys. That’s the mentality they have to have going into preseason.”