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Chicago Fire Notebook: Could Gabriel Slonina handle starting at Azteca?

Plus injury updates and more!

MLS: Chicago Fire at Inter Miami CF
Gabriel Slonina
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The United States Men’s National Team takes on Mexico at Estadio Azteca in three weeks in a crucial World Cup Qualifier. At the moment, the USA’s top two goalkeepers are both dealing with injuries. New England’s Matt Turner is battling a foot injury, and Manchester City’s Zack Steffen is suffering from back tightness. If those injuries linger on, Sean Johnson or Ethan Horvath may end up starting, but what if they can’t?

At that point, we could see 17-year-old Chicago Fire goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina get his first national team start at the Azteca in an absolutely massive match in front of the most hostile of crowds. If you haven’t watched Gaga, that sounds like a recipe for failure. A teenager getting his first start there?

The thing is, Gaga’s not a normal teenager. He’s extremely poised under pressure, and is a great shot stopper. On Saturday against Inter Miami, he tallied his fifth clean sheet of his young career, in just 12 matches. He made a massive diving save late in the match to preserve the point.

Slonina might not be the best option for the US at the moment, but could he get the job done?

“Of course!” Fire head coach Ezra Hendrickson said when he was asked whether he would trust Slonina to make that start. “He’s a young player, but this kid has talent, and I think going into Azteca or wherever, if you have a goalkeeper with that kind of pedigree, with that kind of ability, it works wonders for a coach and for a team. I would definitely be fine with playing him in such a game with such magnitude.”

Fire Injury Updates

Hendrickson said this week that defender Carlos Terán won’t be available for the Orlando City match (5 p.m. CT, WGN-TV and CF97 Live) as he deals with a leg injury. Since arriving in late 2020, Terán has only played 15 times for the Fire. He’s struggled with injuries on and off during that entire time. Many had him penciled in as a centerback starter this season next to Rafael Czizhos, but he’ll have to get healthy first for that to happen.

Hendrickson didn’t offer any other injury updates, but the Fire are expected to list their official injury report on Friday.

Allan Rodriguez loaned to Fire II

As we reported earlier this week on Twitter, Chicago Fire homegrown Allan Rodriguez has been loaned to Chicago Fire II, the club’s new MLS Next Pro team. Rodriguez played just two matches for Forward Madison in 2020 totaling 107 minutes, and didn’t play any official matches last season, so hopefully the loan helps him get necessary playing time.

Dema Kovalenko on the war in his native Ukraine

In case you missed it, NBC 5 interviewed former Fire player Dema Kovalenko about what it’s been like watching the war in Ukraine from afar. Kovalenko, who still lives in the Chicago area and works as a youth soccer coach, has several family members camping out in a bomb shelter under a church in Kyiv.

“[I] talk to them everyday. Ten, 20 times a day,” he told NBC 5. “I update them because we get sometimes better information from here than they do. So, I tell them what’s happening.”

You can watch the entire story here. It’s heartbreaking.

Home Opener Update

There’s no official update from the Fire yet regarding crowd size for Saturday’s 2022 home opener, but if the weather keeps cooperating, it should be a good one. Right now the high temperature is expected to be around 65 degrees, which is far from a worst case scenario for an early March home opener in Chicago.

It will be Hendrickson’s first home game as a head coach, and you can bet he’s looking forward to it.

“We have a lot of potential on this team, and this team could be really, really good,” Hendrickson said. “I know no one is expecting us to do much, but within the group, we are confident that if we play as a team and we stick to our game plan and we implement our style of play in games, we’ll be fine.

“As a coach right now it’s happy times for me. We get to come home and play our first home game to open the home game stretch here, but it’s a wonderful opportunity for me, and I’m just enjoying every minute of it and just loving teaching the guys.”