CHICAGO – The club could be considered the unluckiest and luckiest team in all of Major League Soccer, and it all centers around two natives of the Chicago area.

Addison native Gabriel Slonina, who was a product of Chicago Fire FC’s academy, was so good, so fast that he was signed away by Premiere League power Chelsea after a year and a half with the main club.

But the good news is that a native of Naperville is one of the best young goalkeepers in America, and he’s ready to go as a potential replacement this season.

Chris Brady is on the roster for the club as they begin their 2023 campaign against New York City FC on Saturday at Soldier Field. Manager Ezra Hendrickson hasn’t decided if the 18-year-old will get the start in net, but you can expect to see the young prospect at some point this season.

So what’s it like for Brady to follow Slonina, whom he worked with through the years with the Fire’s youth academy?

“First off, I would say I’m super happy for him. You’ve seen it, we’ve come up together,” said Brady of Slonina. “We’ve been training for so long and to see him finally make it to that level of play is great. It’s great knowing that that’s possible.”

Already Brady had a taste of it as he was put in goal by manager Ezra Hendrickson for the 2022 season finale against New England on October 9. He allowed one goal on five save attempts in a 1-1 draw at SeatGeek Stadium in his MLS.

Before that, Slonina was in the net for the club, as he enjoyed a 14-month rise from 17-year-old rookie to one of the best young goalkeepers in the league. Making his debut late in August 2021, he took the Fire’s starter job full time late that season and was in that position in 2022, which helped him get a contract with Chelsea.

That brings some responsibility for Brady whenever he gets his shot in the net for the Fire, but it’s more of an opportunity for the Naperville native at this point.

“I don’t want to say it paved the way because everybody’s path is different but him
going from an MLS environment, playing these MLS games to making it that far so far, it’s
shows me that it’s very indeed possible,” said Brady. “I know now the inner workings of what it takes to make it there because I was right there next to him.”

That was not just at times with the Fire at the MLS level but also in the club’s youth programs, where the pair rose up the ranks together. Like Slonina, Brady had the chance to get some experience at the national team level, including the U-15 CONCACAF Boys’ Under-15 Championship in 2019 and the U-20 CONCACAF Boys’ Championship in 2022.

In the latter tournament, Brady helped the United States to a title while also winning the Golden Glove for best goalkeeper in the tournament.

One thing that he took away from working with and then watching Slonina was his level of preparation, which set the standard for him to follow.

“The biggest two things are probably focus and work ethic. In training, this guy was a beast, man. He never showed up to training at any point that I remember and he
wasn’t giving it 110 (percent),” said Brady of Slonina. “Then getting close to game time, this guy was dialed in, focused. He made sure he had all the tactics down, and had the game plans memorized.

“These are all things that I’m now trying to incorporate into my own game.”

That chance is coming for Brady as he looks to continue a recent trend with Fire goalkeepers and perhaps make it a tradition.