CHICAGO (AP) — Gabriel Slonina, the 18-year-old Chicago Fire goalkeeper who's viewed as a potential future standout, will remain with the American national team program and turn down an invitation to join Poland.
Slonina announced his decision Friday in a statement.
“Being Polish means being extremely hard working, having faith, never taking no for an answer, pushing through hard times, and taking care of your family,” Slonina said. “With that being said, my heart is American. This country has given me and my family all the opportunities I could ask for. It’s pushed me and supported me through good and bad.
"I understand the privilege of wearing the badge, and the only time I’ll put my head down is to kiss it. America is home and that’s who I’m going to represent.”
Slonina was listed on Poland’s 39-man roster, which was announced Tuesday by coach Czesław Michniewicz ahead of four Nations League matches next month.
“His heart was telling him where to go, and that’s a really important part of the equation,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said Friday.
Berhalter did not include Slonina on his 27-man roster for a pair of exhibitions and two CONCACAF Nations League games.
“I said, listen, I can’t bring you into this camp because of your form,” Berhalter said recounting his conversation with Slonina. “We have guys at a really high levels and experienced guys that played for us before, and your form hasn’t been good enough. And I can understand if you’re going to go take a look at Poland because you’re disappointed with this.
"And his response was great. He understands where he’s at, but he said he’s still committed to us.”
Slonina, who turned 18 on Sunday, became Major League Soccer’s youngest starting goalkeeper in August at 17 years, 81 days, in a 0-0 draw against New York City. He started 11 league matches last season — including the final 10 — and has started the first 12 this year.
Born in Addison, Illinois, and of Polish descent, Slonina attended U.S. national team training camps in December and January but did not get into any matches. He has played for the U.S. at several youth national team levels.
“I've been really impressed with Gaga, just his mindset," Berhalter said. “We see a very promising future for him.”
Under FIFA rules, a player may appear into up to three matches for a national team before turning 21 without being tied to the team.
Zack Steffen of Manchester City and Matt Turner of New England, who is transferring to Arsenal this year, shared the U.S. starting job during World Cup qualifying. Ethan Horvath also is on the roster and Sean Johnson appears has attended recent camps.
Poland incuded four other goalkeepers on its roster: starter Wojciech Szczęsny of Juventus and Bartłomiej Drągowski of Fiorentina, Kamil Grabara of Copenhagen and Łukasz Skorupski of Bologna.
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The Associated Press