Gabriel Slonina’s heroics are a bright light in Fire’s draw with Crew

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gabriel Slonina made a career-high nine saves, some of them fantastic, helping the Fire salvage a 0-0 draw with the Crew on Saturday.

Slonina earned his 12th shutout of the season, and the Fire (8-13-8, 32 points) are unbeaten in their last two games with only five left in the regular season.

“He came up with another great performance,” coach Ezra Hendrickson said. “We know that he’s a good goalkeeper and has been good all year for us. So we’re happy to have him.”

“He’s always been a confident goalkeeper. He’s always been a good ‘keeper. Hence, he signed a contract with Chelsea.”

The Fire are six points out of the seventh and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, held by Cincinnati (9-8-11, 38 points). The Crew (9-6-13, 40 points) are sixth.

“At the end of the season, at the end of the day, we want to make the playoffs,” Slonina said. “So I’m happy for [the career high in saves], but it would be better if I made three saves and we got the win.

“The clean sheet is nice, but obviously,we want to get as much points as possible. So going for the win is the most important.”

In a first half that saw the Crew utilize high pressure, the Fire were forced to make a substitution in the 33rd minute when midfielder Brian Gutierrez was replaced by Jhon Duran after going down with an injury.

The team shifted into a 4-4-2 formation for the first time this season, with Kacper Przybylko and Duran leading the charge on the attack.

Slonina was called into action during the second minute of first-half stoppage time when Derrick Etienne Jr. took advantage of a wall created by his teammates at the top of the Fire’s box, curling a shot around to the second post that Slonina did well to dive to his right to make the save.

Slonina and the Fire defense were again put on high alert in the 63rd minute by -Columbus forward Cucho Hernandez, who took a shot that Slonina reacted well to save. Both players quickly went after the rebound, with Slonina blocking the shot and Fire defender Carlos Teran then clearing the ball out of danger.

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