The Chicago Fire are, historically, extremely guarded when it comes to letting their youngest players talk to the media. The club is careful not to put an immature player into a situation where they might say something stupid and embarrass themselves. They don’t want to “Freddy Adu” anyone—smothering a young player with too much media exposure too soon.
But, with 17-year-old Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina, the Fire don’t really have a choice. The last year has seen him go from an unproven homegrown to the Fire’s No. 1 starter and member of the full United States Men’s National Team. During the European transfer window he was seemingly linked with a different giant club every week. At this point, Gaga is far too important to shield him from the public eye.
Luckily for the Fire, he comes across every bit as mature in front of cameras and microphones as he does in front of goal. Whatever it is, Gaga has it. We asked him this week whether he felt any different going into this season as a No. 1, versus last season when he was still backing up Bobby Shuttleworth.
“I still have a lot to prove,” Slonina said. “I don’t like to think of me as the number one starter now. I still have to give my all in training every single day and putting on performances and training as well as possible to continue to prove that I can have that No. 1 spot. So I think, you know, the level of training and the mind set I go into every training will be the same as it was last season because again it’s that constant wanting to improve and everything, and so you know, going into this season will be the same as it was last season.”
Slonina says he meditates every morning to help himself stay grounded. He’s careful about what he eats, and makes sure he hits the gym every day. He may only be 17, but Gaga says age is just a number, especially if he continues to do the right things.
“I think anything is accomplishable and it all depends about the work you put in every single day,” Slonina said. “I think just having that mind set of how can I be better today and improve from the person I was yesterday is just what keeps me constantly focused and trying to improve every single day.”
Slonina owes a big part of his recent success to Adin Brown, the Fire’s goalkeeper coach. Brown came in under Raphael Wicky in 2020, and stayed after Wicky was fired. When the Fire were searching for the club’s next head coach, eventually landing on Ezra Hendrickson, keeping Brown on board was a priority. Brown and Slonina work well together.
“I think working with Adin is amazing,” Slonina said. “It’s almost like a father/son type. We work on and off the field every single day, watching video, working on the field and seeing what works for me and what doesn’t. I’m learning from him every single day and I feel like he’s learning from me and we have a very good relationship on and off the field.”
Gaga will have some big decisions to make very, very soon. Will he continue to represent the U.S., or switch to Poland? How long will he stay in Chicago? And when he does jump to Europe, which feels inevitable at the point, what kind of challenge does he want? Go to a smaller club where he’s sure to start, or take a shot at club like Manchester United or Juventus, where he might come in as a backup?
All of those decisions can wait. For now, Gaga is focused on the Fire, and on getting better today.
“I’m not the type of player to look too much into the future,” Slonina said. “I want to be here, present now because obviously that’s what’s most important but we never know what the future holds so I think I’m just going to continue to give my all every single day in training, making sure that I’m helping guys on and off the field to, again, have the most successful season that we can for this club.”