Chris Brady part of intriguing goalkeeping situation for Fire

By stopping four shots in Sunday’s season finale, goalkeeper Chris Brady made a statement that he could be equipped to start next year.

After the match, Brady left no doubt about his thoughts on the subject.

“I feel ready,” Brady said. “I feel like all the work I put in especially with the second team and even today with the first team and all throughout training throughout the year. I feel like I’m ready. So, yeah, 100%.”

How the Fire approach Brady and the goalie position will be one of the fascinating storylines to follow during the offseason.

Coming off a standout year in MLS NEXT Pro, Brady’s development wouldn’t be helped if he had to repeat that level or even play on loan somewhere in the second-tier USL Championship next season. However, it’s possible English Premier League club Chelsea loans incumbent starter Gabriel Slonina back to the Fire, where he would be expected to get the bulk of the playing time in 2023 over Brady.

Slonina was open to whatever comes his way during a conversation Sunday with the Sun-Times.

“I think I’m going to just trust what [Chelsea has] in store for me,” Slonina said. “I’m going to keep working hard and prove that I can perform at a high level.”

If the London club decides Slonina would develop better elsewhere, the Fire would have to evaluate whether to play Brady next year and go through some of the same growing pains Slonina endured in 2022. There’s also the chance the Fire won’t deem Brady ready and give Spencer Richey (under contract through 2023) or another veteran stopgap the job, though that goalie would know they could be benched the moment Brady’s developed enough to start.

Coach Ezra Hendrickson was impressed with Brady’s debut, and indicated he’ll have an opportunity to seize the top spot on the depth chart.

“I think you could tell from his performance today and his performance all year with the second team that the kid is ready to make that move,” Hendrickson said. “But you know, there’s always going to be competition and especially after this year, coming into the next year, there’s going to be competition for every position.”

Perhaps that competition began Sunday in Bridgeview.

Brady showed his athleticism and awareness against New England, making his best stop in the 52nd minute when he dove to his right to stop Gustavo Bou’s try from the center of the box. However, there were the expected hiccups, including his 11th-minute pass through the box that put Mauricio Pineda under pressure against the Revolution’s press, though the Fire escaped without damage.

Brady said he learned from that moment, and thought he had figured things out by the end of the match.

“I obviously wanted a clean sheet but I think today was a really, really good day to build off of and heading into next season especially, I think it’s good for the group to come together and show what we can do,” Brady said. “Especially some of the younger guys who didn’t get a lot of playing time, myself included.”

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