FRISCO, Texas — When it comes to tournaments like the Generation adidas Cup, the Chicago Fire Academy U-17s coach Nate Boyden has a predicament in goal. Does he start the veteran, imposing shot-stopper Damian Las, who’s the No. 1 choice in net for the US Under-17 national team? Or does he go with the young but promising Gabriel Slonina, who recently signed with the first team, becoming the youngest-ever Homegrown signee?
In the first day of action at the Toyota Soccer Center in Frisco, Texas, Boyden gave each keeper his shot in their first two games of the day –– and their performances won’t make his decision any easier.
The Fire quickly went up 2-0 on Houston in their first match of the day and the Damian Las-led squad came away with a 2-1 victory after Las shut the door on any comeback hopes for the Dynamo U-17s in the closing minutes.
This is Las’ third and final GA Cup and Boyden sees it as him “passing the guard” on to "Gaga."
That’s precisely what happened in the Fire’s second match of the day as Slonina kept a shutout all through regulation against Denmark’s FC Midtylland before falling in the penalty shootout, 4-2.
Slonina was as impressive as Las, which becomes an embarrassment of riches for their head coach.
“Damien and Gabriel are both great goalkeepers, they’ve been together for a while,” Boyden said following the shootout. “They continue to push each other and we believe that they can play at the highest level.”
While he’s three years Las’ junior, that’s precisely what Slonina has done already by signing a professional contract with the Fire.
“They can both be professionals, Gabriel already is, and we hope that’s in Damian’s future at some point, too.”
If he continues to perform as he has for club and country, it’s a matter of when –– not if –– for when Damian Las joins his fellow goalkeeper in the professional ranks. As for now, the Fire U-17s are in good hands for their remaining GA cup matches and beyond.