Nicholas Slonina has dreamed of this day since he can remember.
At times the moment has felt further away than he'd like, but on this day, the 18-year-old sits down in a south loop Chicago studio with a quiet confidence about him. This is where he belongs.
Shoulders back, head up, hands rested calmly in his lap, Slonina reflects on his journey to this milestone with admiration for what he's accomplished, but also with conviction that his story is just beginning.
We spoke with Chicago Fire FC's newest homegrown signing on a variety of subjects, including the torn ACL he suffered while playing for the U-17 U.S. Men's National Team, his relationship with his brother and fellow homegrown player Gabriel Slonina, and what it means to be a son of Polish immigrants.
ChicagoFireFC.com: What was your reaction to being offered a homegrown contract and how excited are you to be a part of the first team?
Nicholas Slonina: It's a dream come true. It's everything I've always ever wanted since I was a little kid. I went through a lot and put myself through a lot, but I think with hard work you can accomplish anything.
CFFC: Speaking to what you've been through, can you take us through the knee injury you had in 2016 and what that experience taught you?
Slonina: The torn ACL kept me out for over a year. And for the first seven or eight months, I couldn't even touch a ball. The toughest part of that was being mentally strong. It wears you out not being able to do what you love. But it helped me grow as a person and helped me become stronger. Without the injury, I wouldn't be the person I am now. It made me face a challenge I never thought I could face, but I was able to overcome it and now I know that I can overcome anything.
CFFC: How important has your family been throughout your journey?
Slonina: My family has always been a big part of my life. They've always helped me whenever I've had a bad game or needed support. They always push me, they're always positive with me, they always give me happiness. Especially my brother, he's 15 and almost as tall as me and we always compete against each other. It doesn't even have to be in soccer. Whatever it is, we're always competing against each other, and I think that's what makes us good soccer players. We have this competitive nature of never wanting to lose, and wanting to constantly get better.
CFFC: Your brother, Gabriel, signed his homegrown contract with the Fire earlier this year in March, how did he react to you signing?
Slonina: We talked right after, and he just told me how proud he was of me. He was joking that he wants to see who will debut first. So he may have signed first, but we'll see about the second part.
CFFC: Did you and your brother ever daydream what it would be like for you both to play for your hometown club?
Slonina: Of course. That's been our dream ever since we were little. We love Chicago. The city is amazing, the people are amazing, there's a lot of Polish citizens here as well, so it makes me feel strong knowing I've got a lot of people behind me.
CFFC: With your parents both immigrating from Poland, how proud are they of what you and your brother have accomplished?
Slonina: For my mom and my dad, it's been their number one goal in life to always look at us first instead of them. So in mine and my brother's mind, we have to give back to them. They started brand new lives here and they did it all for us. So I think making it here with my brother is their American dream.
CFFC: So your first year with the first team will be the Fire's first year playing at Soldier Field. As someone who grew up here, how excited are you about the move downtown?
Slonina: The move to Soldier Field was very important. We have the opportunity to play in front of all of Chicago. It gives you a huge boost of motivation knowing the potential this club has.
CFFC: What are your goals for the future and what do you think you can bring to this team?
Slonina: I want to help the team in every way possible. I will for sure give my 100 percent for the team. Obviously the goal for me is to be a part of the team and help them out as much as possible. Just being there for my teammates.
CFFC: You trained with the first team a lot this year, how do you think that helped prepare you for this next step?
Slonina: Trainings are always intense. Coming from the academy, it's a huge jump. It was definitely a challenge at the beginning, but it takes time. But now that I've done it, I feel prepared to take on anything.
CFFC: Lastly, what kind of pride do you take in the term "homegrown"? How has your journey with the Fire so far helped you get to this point?
Slonina: I'm really proud of it. I wouldn't be where I am now without my coaches from the academy. They always pushed me that last step. They were always there, always telling me to keep my head up if something went wrong and focus on the next play. Their help has brought me to where I am today.