Real Madrid are buzzing from the high of winning their 14th Champions League crown. Thibaut Courtois was the standout performer on the night, cementing his status as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
However, Los Blancos wanted to be on their way to bringing in some competition for him. 18-year-old goalkeeping talent Gabriel ‘Gaga’ Slonina had been earmarked by Madrid as the understudy to Courtois. Although Chelsea swooped in and got their man, for less than $10m.
Slonina was on the verge of a move to Chelsea, before they got sanctioned. Currently playing for Chicago Fire in the MLS, he is no stranger to setting records. Slonina has been an ever-present for Fire since 2021 and could be making the dream European move soon, following in the footsteps of Ricardo Pepi and Gio Reyna.
FootTheBall brings you the best facts you need to know regarding Gaga Slonina as the latest goalkeeping sensation.
Gaga Slonina is not of American ancestry, as his name suggests. His parents are from Poland and emigrated to the USA when they were 21-years-old themselves. Therefore, Slonina has been a dual citizen since his childhood and fell in love with being a goalkeeper at an early age. Moreover, he was also eligible to represent Poland or the USA in international matches.
Happy Mothers Day Mama ❤️ thank you for sacrificing everything to give me all I could ever want. love you ♾ pic.twitter.com/4qbhtUuJjp
— GAGA (@GabrielSlonina) May 8, 2022
Height made him a goalkeeper
The classic tale of being tall and having to play in goal. Slonina’s big frame, even as a child, made him an automatic choice for being a goalkeeper. He spoke of how the other kids had nowhere to shoot when he was in goal. Having tasted success in being a goalkeeper and stopping penalties, Slonina made the expected choice of continuing in that position.
🧤Exclusive sit down w/ Gabriel Slonina🧤 6’4” 195 lbs and 4 Shutouts in only 10 games played.
Great interview. @ChicagoFire @GabrielSlonina @SebiSalazarFUT #FutbolAmericas #ESPNPlus @espnplus #CFFC pic.twitter.com/1NwcpdaMZa
— herculez gomez (@herculezg) November 3, 2021
The story of how Gabriel Slonina became Gaga is rooted in his childhood. It was given to him when he was six or seven years old, playing locally. “This is the first memory I have of it. I just hear the crowd chanting ‘Super Gaga,'” Slonina said to CBS Sports. “I would literally print it on my shirts, and everything in the back.” Indeed, Super Gaga is taking the country by storm and the best is yet to come.
Football runs in the family of Sloninas, with Gaga’s older brother Nicholas also a footballer. The 21-year-old played as a defender for the youth sides of the Chicago Fire and can be seen supporting Gaga for his matches. However, he left the club last season and is on the lookout for a new adventure.
Compared to Buffon and Neuer
Slonina’s hot start to life in football has drawn the inevitable comparisons with some goalkeeping legends. At the top of that list are Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer. “He reminds me very much of a young Gigi Buffon,” said former USMNT player Tony Meola.
Incredibly, Slonina has always been eager to address these comparisons, using them as motivation.
🇺🇸 Gabriel Slonina for @ChicagoFire:
☑️ 7 starts
🚫 5 clean sheets
👐 15 saves
⚽️ 2 goals conceded
🥅 0.28 goals conceded per game
☝️ One loss
17 years old. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/hNfq17WeTd
— Football Wonderkids (@fbwonderkids) April 17, 2022
As he puts it himself, “Being compared to them is an incredible honor. It’s insane to see my name next to theirs because they’re the top goalkeepers in the world. They’ve accomplished so many big things that I hope to accomplish in my career.”
Therefore, it is no wonder that with a mentality like this, Madrid are coming for him.
Chicago Fire’s youngest player ever
Slonina has played for the Chicago Fire right from their youth levels. He was a designated Homegrown Player and became the youngest player in Fire history to sign a professional contract in 2019. Moreover, Slonina’s signing at the tender age of 14 made him the second youngest in the history of the MLS to sign professionally.
When Slonina inked his deal in 2019, he could have barely imagined making his senior debut in two years. In a match against New York City FC, one of the farm teams of the City Football Group, Slonina’s number was called.
At 17 years and 81 days, he became the youngest starting goalkeeper in MLS history.
Youngest to start an MLS match ✔️
Youngest to record a shutout ✔️
Gabriel Slonina, y'all. pic.twitter.com/WtMM4XhHNQ
— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) August 5, 2021
Moreover, Slonina had an excellent outing in the 0-0 draw, making him the youngest goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet. “I was buzzing. It was an amazing feeling to start and get a clean sheet,” said Slonina after the match. A momentous occasion.
Making the difficult choice
There had been widespread speculation regarding which nation Slonina would select. He was called up to the USA senior squad in early 2022 but failed to make his debut. Poland stepped up their pursuit of the young star, even offering him a visa and special jersey.
Poland included him in their squad for the upcoming UEFA Nations League matches.
However, Slonina announced on Twitter that he had chosen to represent the USA in international, joining a bevy of young talent in recent times.
— GAGA (@GabrielSlonina) May 20, 2022
A true fan favorite
It has been incredibly heartwarming to see the connection Slonina has struck up with supporters already. He is a regular in meeting and greeting the fans after matches and keeping communications open to the public. Moreover, being a native, Slonina has massive respect and love for the fans who adore his commitment to bettering the team’s performances.
Match Day 🔥 #VamosFire pic.twitter.com/UEnmwkWrR6
— GAGA (@GabrielSlonina) April 23, 2022
Gaga Slonina’s rise has been truly staggering and heartwarming. Chicago Fire know they have an absolute gem on their hands. Slonina is targeting to become the best in the world, and his excellent work ethic has been evident to all. Therefore, any club will be lucky to have him. The fans will instantly start appreciating him no matter where he goes.