Chicago Fire's Gabriel Slonina has been compared to goalkeeping icon Gianluigi Buffon by former United States international Tony Meola.
The 17-year-old enjoyed a remarkable rise at the end of the 2021 MLS season, starting the Fire's final 11 games ahead of established number one Bobby Shuttleworth.
During that time, Slonina kept four clean sheets and averaged 3.91 saves per 90 minutes, some of which were truly outstanding. Despite his tender age, Slonina has shown real maturity - especially given how he's handled the pressures of his position.
The American has since been rewarded with a couple of call-ups to the United States Men's National Team - including for the World Cup qualifiers at the end of this month. He's still yet to play for Gregg Berhalter's side and remains eligible for Poland, he does have nine caps to his name across various youth levels.
And now, Meola - who won 100 caps for the USMNT between 1988 and 2006 - has likened Slonina's style to the legendary Buffon, a player Meola worked up close and personal with during a training stint with Parma.
“He reminds me very much of a young Gigi Buffon,” Meola said on SiriusXM FC. “You look at his body, you look at his movements – I had the chance to be in Parma when Gigi Buffon was there and I was there for four months training and trained with Gigi and stayed friends with him over the years. He is a guy that you could tell was going to work his way through anything, and that’s kind of what I see from him and what I hear from everyone in and around the Chicago Fire.”
Meola also thinks it's just a matter of time before Slonina fulfills his destiny in Europe and becomes the USMNT's No.1 for years to come - though he did comment that this year's World Cup in Qatar may be a little too early.
“He’s one day going to be the US men’s national team starting goalkeeper,” Meola continued. “That’s dependent on what happens with Zack Steffen and Matt Turner and anyone else who emerges, but I don’t know it’s this World Cup.”
He added: “I look at the pathway, and I think the pathway for him is that within the next 24 months he’s going to be in Europe and needs to be in Europe."
Slonina is currently with Berhalter's squad preparing for World Cup qualifiers against El Salvador, Canada, and Honduras later this month.