"I was on my way to Soldier Field just like any other gameday," Chicago Fire keeper Gabriel Slonina, affectionately known as "Gaga", said about his drive to the stadium before his MLS debut Wednesday night. "But then my car starts to jolt a bit. I'm trying to listen to it and figure out what's wrong and when I try to accelerate, nothing happens."
Out of all the days his car could break down, it would be this one. Gaga Slonina was set to make his MLS debut at 17 years of age due to regular starter Bobby Shuttleworth being shut down with a knee injury he suffered the match prior.
Slonina eventually called his family and the Fire administrative staff, who went out to where he was and got him an Uber to get to Soldier Field. Slonina's response to the situation gives a glimpse into the mind of a kid that seems to be mature beyond his years.
"I took [the entire situation] as a positive thing," Slonina said. "It took my mind off the game and forced me to focus on something else. When you focus and stress about the future, it does not help you too much. It took my mind off the stress of having a good performance."
Making MLS History
Slonina was going to make history no matter how well he played Wednesday night. He was set to become the youngest keeper by some margin to start a MLS match, and his debut would come against NYCFC, a team with one of the best attacks in MLS.
The debut could not have gone any better. Slonina made every save he was asked to make, four in total, and kept the highest-scoring team per 90 minutes scoreless for the first time in 26 matches.
The defense was just as imperative to Slonina's performance as Slonina himself. Gaga only needed to make four saves in total.
"Yea, those guys man, they're awesome," Slonina said of the defense. "They keep me so confident. At the beginning of the game, before we went out on the field, they told me that they're super confident in me to play my game. I think they're great teammates and people overall."
Defender Mauricio Pineda praised Slonina himself. "I think everyone is proud of him. He's been training really well. He's always preparing and getting ready for every day, and that showed today."
Continuing the Work
Even with all the attention and fanfare Slonina has been receiving, the 17-year-old is proving to be wise beyond his years. The goalkeeper's demeanor has been focused, centered, and level-headed, something not many teenagers can hang their hat on.
Bobby Shuttleworth is listed as questionable for today's match against New York Red Bulls, but it seems Slonina's mindset will not change, no matter if he starts again or goes back to the bench.
"My mentality, it doesn't change," Slonina said. "[My performance last game] doesn't mean anything right now. Of course, yes I'm in the record books and all that, but it's about staying at that level, continuing to put in that work I always put in and not letting it affect my mental or physical game."