The Pathway

Chris Brady becomes Chicago Fire FC goalkeeping star | The Pathway

There was always something intriguing to Chris Brady about the goalkeeper position.

At a young age, playing center back didn’t bring him joy. So, he tried goalkeeper and it instantly became clear that was his natural spot.

The homegrown standout made that decision before entering Chicago Fire FC’s academy system in 2017, eventually blossoming into one of Major League Soccer's top prospects between the posts.

“It's almost a whole different sport combined with soccer, if you think about it like that,” Brady told “I like the fact that there's different parts of the game that are very individualistic – it is its own position.”

The 20-year-old Illinois native recalls the grind of going from Naperville to Chicago at a young age just to train. But those days of carpooling with teammates after school were crucial to honing his craft.

After signing his first-team deal in March 2020, Brady was loaned to USL League One side Forward Madison for an eye-opening experience. It was when the COVID-19 pandemic started, bringing a sense of loneliness in a new setting. But the move also helped Brady realize how demanding it is to play professionally and, after the season, he was named Young Player of the Year.

His jump to MLS NEXT Pro with Chicago Fire FC II took things to another level.

“There's a different sense of pride that comes with it. That's what I started to learn and develop with my time in MLS NEXT Pro,” Brady said. “It was more so about now how can I sharpen those tools that I had acquired during my time in the academy, and how can I put those tools to the test in a very new professional environment? I think I did fairly well.”

The natural progression made 2022 an important year for Brady, as he led the United States to the Concacaf U-20 Championship title and was awarded the Golden Glove as the tournament’s best ‘keeper.

Drawing inspiration

While Brady was rising through the ranks, he still had to wait patiently. The Fire had another homegrown goalie, Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina, who was making headlines and eventually became the youngest starting ‘keeper in MLS at just 17 years old.

Bursting onto the scene as a phenom, it took roughly a year from his debut for Slonina to secure a stunning transfer to Premier League side Chelsea FC.

The time Brady spent with Slonina was both transformational and inspirational.

“I remember learning a lot from him just by the way he did things,” Brady said. “He sort of led by example in that way and I took a lot of what he showed me into what I do now throughout my weeks, matchdays and even how I play.”

Seeing someone he spent years alongside reach one of the biggest clubs in the world assured Brady he was on the right track.

“When you're a kid and you're thrust into a position like this, sometimes you question yourself and think, ‘Is this really possible for someone my age with my experience level?’" Brady said. “But having Gaga go ahead of me and pave that path – it's not saying that I'm following that, but it made me believe in those early years that something like this was possible.”

When asked about other goalkeepers who have inspired him, Brady doesn’t hesitate to mention Damian Las, who he also spent time with at the Fire academy. Las was named the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Goalkeeper of the Year and helped lead Austin FC II to the cup title.

Despite Las now playing on loan for USL Championship club Louisville City, they still talk often and train together during the offseason.

“He's a very strong ‘keeper both physically and mentally, super resilient and just a hard-working guy,” Brady explained. “He's someone who I really like to model my game after.”

Awaited moment

Drawing motivation from his peers helped Brady form his confidence. So, when his MLS debut arrived on Oct. 9, 2022, he was ready despite the surprise.

His teammate Brian Gutiérrez broke the news to him a few days before at training.

“He walked up to me and he's like ‘Brady, you know you’re starting this week.’ And I was like, ‘Get out of here, you're lying,’” Brady recalled. "He was like, 'Not at all, for real – coach just said in the press conference, you’re going to be in goal.'

“I was like, ‘Damn, alright, let's go!’ So internally I kind of got hyped, super excited. Then the nerves kicked in.”

Brady’s debut ended up being a 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution and he made a few saves, but was mostly just happy to check such an important life moment off his list and do so in front of family and friends.

Brady fully took over the starting role in 2023, following Slonina’s reported $15 million move, playing 30 games and finishing the season with eight clean sheets.

Olympic outlook

Brady admits that while being such a young starter in MLS is surreal, his maturation process allowed him to stay composed.

Slonina did it, and it worked out. Patrick Schulte of defending MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew is enjoying success at just 23. These are the counterparts Brady is now competing alongside for a spot at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.

“That's sort of in the hands of the coaching staff here [in Chicago] and the coaching staff there. So fingers crossed, because obviously I would love to go and represent my country,” Brady mentioned. “I've been in every camp thus far and I can tell you for certain that this is a group really centered around that family aspect of playing together as one and super resilient.”

Regardless of what happens in the summer, he’s locked in on being his best for the Fire to see what comes next.

“I was thankful enough to keep an open mind about the position of goalkeeping when I was a kid and thankfully it developed into what I am now,” said Brady. “But I think if you keep that mindset of that continuous grind, that continuous work, you'll find yourself in some really good spots wherever that may be.”