The Fire’s offseason has only just begun, and thoughts of the 2023 MLS season are still on the back burner, but World Cup fever is starting to set in. National teams are preparing for the tournament in Qatar, and two Fire players in contention to make the trip, Xherdan Shaqiri and Gaga Slonina, have left Chicago to get ready ahead of the squad announcements. Meanwhile, several of the Fire’s young players were called up to youth national teams as they look to play a role in the future. We’ll look at all of these players in today’s Fire notebook.
Slonina called up to the USMNT
USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter is set to name his World Cup roster on November 9th, and Chelsea-bound Gaga Slonina is one of the contenders to go to Qatar as the United States’ third goalkeeper. Berhalter called nine MLS-based senior team players who had already been eliminated from the playoffs into camp in Frisco, Texas to maintain fitness ahead of the tournament. Upon returning from a week spent in London, Slonina arrives at US camp looking to make a late push to go to the World Cup.
Slonina’s competitors for the third goalkeeper spot are former Fire keeper Sean Johnson, who is in good form and is still alive in the MLS Cup playoffs with NYCFC, and on-loan Luton goalkeeper Ethan Horvath. While it is incredibly unlikely any of the three would see the field, it would certainly be a great experience for whoever goes, and with Gaga’s play in the second half of 2022, he has certainly earned this chance to compete for that spot.
Gutiérrez, Brady join combined US camp
Slonina won’t be the only Fire homegrown heading to Frisco this week. Brian Gutiérrez and Chris Brady were also named to that same camp, though officially as part of the U-20 roster. Members of the US U-20 national team will make up the numbers so to speak, making this a combined roster between the senior team and U-20s. Neither Guti nor Brady has any shot of making the World Cup roster, but it will be a fantastic opportunity for them to train in front of the senior US coach.
Notably, this is the first time that Gaga Slonina and Chris Brady will be in a US camp together. In the past, the Fire have only allowed one of the pair to go on international duty at a time. Now, both of Chicago’s world-class goalkeeping academy products will have the chance to wear the stars and stripes alongside one another.
Shaqiri trains with FC Lugano
FC Lugano announced this week that the Fire’s Swiss DP, Xherdan Shaqiri, will train with the club from the 24th of October until the beginning of Switzerland's World Cup camp on November 13th. This announcement marks the end of a series of rumors that Shaqiri would be training with the Fire’s sister club to prepare for the Qatar trip. This arrangement was approved by the Fire and Major League Soccer, allowing one of the league’s superstars to better prepare for the greatest tournament on earth.
“If Xherdan can train at the highest level with an ambitious Swiss club, it is not only an advantage for him but also for [the national team],” Switzerland head coach Murat Yakin told Swiss outlet RSI. “We hope he reaches the national team in the best possible shape for the World Cup.”
Fire Academy represented at US U-15 camp
While Slonina and Shaqiri are preparing for the World Cup in 2022, some are, perhaps, working toward 2030. Highly-rated Fire academy center back Christopher Cupps was called into U-15 camp for the United States in Kansas City. Cupps is playing up two years with the Fire U-17s at the moment, and is set to be a leader for the US at the CONCACAF U-15 championship next year.
Called into the same camp was LAFC’s DeCarlo Guerra, who is reportedly going to be joining the Fire at some point in the near future. Guerra, who shares an agent with Gaga Slonina, is considered an elite defensive midfield prospect in his age group and has been on trial with VfL Stuttgart and Real Sociedad this year.
Former Fire academy players Juan “Gio” Villa (Real Salt Lake) and Marius Aiyenero (Unattached) were also named to this roster. Both left the academy this summer.