You have to feel for him. Bobby Shuttleworth lost his starting job these last few games through no fault of his own.
Despite the Chicago Fire’s poor record, Shuttleworth has been good this season—at times really good. But with the team out of the playoff picture, Raphael Wicky has rightfully moved on to Shuttleworth’s heir apparent, 17-year-old Gabriel Slonina.
“Look, we had a brief conversation and I explained to him my thoughts and that we want to give Gaga (Slonina) a few games,” Wicky explained. “And then we also told him it’s not because of a bad performance, he’s had a good year for us and we know what we have with him, but we want to see how the young kid does.
“He obviously took this well, but of course he probably is not happy. A player who doesn’t play and is happy would be in the wrong place. He’s working, he’s supporting and so far it’s good. But of course, I assume the player himself is not happy, but we had a brief conversation.”
Shuttleworth’s 73 saves this season put him third in the East, behind only New England superstar Matt Turner (75), and RBNY’s Carlos Coronel (74). After losing his starting job at his last stop in Minnesota and being shipped out on loan to Sacramento Republic, Shuttleworth his been good enough in his 40 games with the Fire over the last two seasons that some club will probably want him as a starter next season. But, staying in Chicago in 2022 likely means continuing to mentor and back up Slonina. It may or may not be what Bobby wants to do long term, but he’s apparently very good at it.
“Bobby is such a good mentor for me, his discipline and consistency,” Slonina said. “I just learned so much from him in terms of what it takes to be a professional goalkeeper, because no matter what, he was so consistent and disciplined and getting in the gym and recovering. I think I’ve learned so much from him and that’s part of why I’m performing.”
When he signed as Kenneth Kronholm’s backup early in 2020, many Fire fans groaned with disgust. After all, Shuttleworth was the enemy. He was a key part of the New England Revolution teams that regularly smacked the Fire from 2010-2016. But, since arriving, no one can question his loyalty to the Fire—he’s been a pro on the field, and off.
Shuttleworth is also one of the better interviews on the team. After the 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati at Soldier Field in June—one of the low points of the season—Shuttleworth stepped up and faced reporters. When I asked him whether the team was still buying into what Wicky was saying, he strongly defended his coach, saying his fellow players needed to take blame themselves. Athletes are trained to always say the “right thing” and not create any unnecessary controversy, so you really don’t know whether they actually believe what they’re saying. With Shuttleworth, you know you’re always getting the truth.
Maybe we’ll see Shuttleworth again with the Fire. Maybe we won’t. He deserves a chance to play if he still wants to, and that probably won’t happen in Chicago. Whatever happens next, we’ll be pulling for Bobby.