The joke used to be Fulham: “full of Americans.” Now the much bigger southwest London club, the one located a mile farther inland from the banks of the Thames River, have the more American flavor. Chelsea FC are just hours away from kicking off their 2022/23 season, the first of the Todd Boehly era. Boehly, net worth of $4.5 billion is an American, and the co-founder, chairman, chief executive officer and controlling member of Eldridge Industries.
Joining his club this week is young, promising goalkeeper Gaga Slonina, who will immediately be loaned back to the Chicago Fire, for the rest of the MLS season and move to Chelsea permanently starting January 1. And of course, joining the side in 2019 was Christian Pulisic, nicknamed Capt. America as he’s the current face of U.S. Soccer. So in other words, Chelsea FC can definitely inspire #Merica or perhaps even a #Murrica right now.
Honoured to join such a massive club with so much history. It’s a privilege to wear the badge of the best side in London.
Thank you to all the fans for the warm welcome. Can’t wait to get started.? @ChelseaFC pic.twitter.com/YmShsm1yYj
— GAGA (@GabrielSlonina) August 2, 2022
Everton vs Chelsea FYIs
Kick: Sat Aug. 6, 5:30 pm Goodison Park
Team News for Both Sides: go here
Chelsea FC Starting XI Prediction: go here
Google Result Probability: Chelsea win 59% Draw 24% Everton 17%
Odds: Everton – 4/1 Draw – 11/4 Chelsea – 4/6
Stamford is definitely not a Bridge Too Far for Americans looking to adopt a soccer (yes, we had to say soccer because this long form piece has an American bent) team to root for. Having scooped everyone on the news of Slonina joining Chelsea two weeks ago, it was extremely enjoyable and very interesting to partake in the media Zoom calls with Gaga, as well as Chicago Fire Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson and Fire Sporting Director Georg Heitz this week.
We asked Slonina, 18, about the potential advantages, given the prospect of playing for an American owner, and alongside the most most recognizable player on the American national team.
“It’s great to have an American owner, and Christian, I was at World Cup qualifying with him,” the Addison, IL native and USMNT member responded.
“It makes it a little bit easier that I’ll have like a person that I can go to and ask him about how things work in London and everything, and how the club works.”
Slonina said of Pulisic: “I think he’s a great character. He’s a great person and super approachable so I think that’s going to help me out a lot once I get there…when I landed in London, I actually spoke with Christian and just told him that I would be joining the club, hopefully after the medical had passed. He told me that he’s super happy I’m going to be joining the club.”
Heitz revealed on his media call that Chelsea had started pursuing the teenage Chicago Fire shot-stopper back in January. He also said that the ownership change, from Roman Abramovich to Boehly, and all that it encompassed, led to delays in getting this record breaking deal done.
Gaga, whose real name is Gabriel, joined for a $10,000,000 base transfer fee, with another $5,000,000 possible in add-ons. He’s the youngest Fire player to ever join a big five league in Europe and he’s the most expensive sale in Chicago Fire transfer history.
The new ownership, expectedly, led to a massive change in the front office at Chelsea, with the likes of Marina Granovskaia, Bruce Buck and Petr Cech all leaving the club. The trio have all been instrumental in building and maintaining the Blues roster in recent years. Multiple reports that Boehly, is also owns part of the Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Dodgers, was conducting a lot of the transfer activity himself.
What a unique experience this was for a giant club- the guy at the very, very top was more hands on.
We asked Heitz if it this was experience was similar or different in this regard?
“It was similar,” he responded.
“Todd had been informed about this transfer before, and he had given (the) green light before. Nevertheless, he wanted to double-check. We had a really nice chat.
“And also, I always appreciate to speak to reliable partners in this industry, and he is definitely a reliable partner, at least he was in this transfer. And very passionate about the club and about Chelsea and I think absolutely aware of what the job means.”
Heitz also said that loaning Gaga Slonina back for the 2023 season is not out of the question, and that discussions could be had with Chelsea in the coming months. He called it a “great idea” to bring him back on loan again.
Slonina spoke of his meeting Boehly: “we were always talking with my agent and everything, so he’s a great guy as well, so I think that going forward, it’s going to be great to join the club.”
And of why the prospect of joining Chelsea made it such a favorable destination for him: “obviously Chelsea is one of the biggest clubs in the world and they play in the Premier League, so it was a no-brainer for me to want to join that team, such a massive club with so much history and the things they have done in the past years has truly been amazing. So it’s an incredible honor to be joining the club. It was a no-brainer to join Chelsea because of the development I’ll be able to get there and to be with this club is truly an honor.”
Slonina, one of the many homegrowns making an impact for the Fire this season, will most likely be loaned out in 2023 to a club in one of Europe’s big five leagues. From there, he’ll work his way towards becoming the Chelsea No. 2 someday, potentially soon. Edouard Mendy has the No. 1 position locked down for the time being while the current No. 2, Kepa Arrizabalaga, has been largely a bust. Kepa just hasn’t lived up to his most expensive all-time transfer fee for a shot-stopper expectations.
If they can find an interested buyer, one has to think that his time in southwest London could soon be up. In the meantime, Slonina, who chose American affiliation for his international competition status over Polish, will chase the MLS single season clean sheets record.
He goes for #11 against FC Charlotte tonight, with the current benchmark of 17 held by U.S. legend Tony Meola.
Hendrickson discussed what will make Slonina a good fit at Chelsea.
“I’m not a Chelsea scout, so I can’t really speak as to what it is that they saw,” he said. “But from knowing the player and having coached him, he’s very good with his feet, and I know Chelsea likes to build, and he’s a very good shot-stopper. So, you always want a keeper that can keep the ball out of the back of the net. I think maybe that’s something that Chelsea saw, his ability when things break down to keep the ball out of the back of the net.
“But he’s also comfortable with his feet and he can play out of the back which fits them.
He also conversed on the concept of an American international joining a Yankee owned team:
“I think the kid would fit in, whichever team he went to, just because of the type of person that he is,” the first year Fire manager responded.
“But I’m sure having American owners, there may be a little more patience with him, because he’s still developing and still growing as a player, as a goalkeeper, so that may help in that aspect. But I don’t really think, no matter what team he went to, I don’t think there will be an issue for him fitting in just because of his ability to be focused and stay focused and work hard.
“No matter where you go, teams, coaches, organization, want players that are going to fight for that badge and work to do their best to be the best ones that do step on the pitch to represent the club. I think that he’d do well regardless of where he went.”
Very well said, on all fronts. While Chelsea supporters often say and cheer “blue is the color (or more specifically ‘colour’), they can now also yell “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and he co-hosts the After Extra Time podcast, part of Edge of the Crowd Network. Follow him and the website on Twitter and Instagram.Follow paulmbanks