It was one and done in Pontiac, Mich. for the Thunder Bay Chill.
A playoff season that started with so much promise came to an abrupt halt indoors Saturday night at the Ultimate Soccer Arena, a Jordan Ayris goal in the 62nd minute the difference as Forest City London pulled off a 1-0 Premier Development League upset in the Central Conference semifinal.
The Chill, one of the top-scoring teams in the PDL during the regular season, were smothered by an effective London defence, then played the final 20 minutes of the game shorthanded, after returning midfielder Wilson Neto’s comeback lasted all of 10 minutes before a pair of yellow cards sent him to the sidelines.
“They played really hard,” said league-leading scorer Sullivan Silva, who had a couple of strong opportunities to score in each half, but either fired wide or the shot was stopped by London goalkeeper Reece Richardson.
“You could see whenever we got the ball they pressured really quickly. They are a good team. We were unlucky. Myself, I missed a couple of opportunities, but that’s how it is.”
The normally upbeat Chill, who went 13-2-1 in the regular season and were expecting to be in Sunday’s championship final against the host Michigan Bucks, let their emotions show when the final whistle blew.
"It could go either way," he said. "It was a little bit risky, but we thought bringing in Gustavo -- he did give us a little bit more punch up front. But we didn't do what we wanted to do, put the goals in the net."
The players were motionless on their bench, as reality set in, and stayed that way for several minutes once it did.
“It’s very disappointing. Our regular seasons was one of the best seasons, and then the first playoff game you’re out,” said Silva.
Gustavo Oliveira, who was added to the roster late in the season when injuries hit, just couldn’t capture the magic that once made him a top forward in the PDL.
Retired and living in Oklahoma, Oliveira played the entire match, but like Silva and Juan Velez, just couldn’t get the offence to materialize.
“I don’t even know what to say,” he said, re-announcing his retirement, this time for good. “We played hard. They’re a really good team too. It was a good game. We had our chances. In the first half we started playing well.
“We had a couple of chances and didn’t score; the same thing in the second half. We started playing hard. We had two good chances to capitalize in the beginning and we didn’t. They got a (corner) kick late and scored. That’s what happened.”
Ayris was nonchalant about the win over a team that finished 15 points and six wins ahead of Great Lakes Division runner-up London.
“I don’t think it was much of an upset, to be honest. I think we had a few of our chances we could have executed a bit better,” he said. “We got the one and held on to it. It will be a good game tomorrow.”
For Chill coach Tony Colistro, it was a bitter defeat. His team has gone to the final four the past two seasons, but couldn't escape the opening round in 2012.
London got to the balls faster than the Chill, he said.
"They shut us down. We didn't create a lot of opportunities, even though we had all this attack. But again, defence wins championships, eh? It's disappointing for sure, but that's the game. It doesn't matter where you finish in the standings. When you get to the playoffs, it's one game and we just didn't get the job done. We won't be here tomorrow."
Bound to take some criticism for bringing Neto and Oliveira back so late into a successful season, Colistro said he still thinks it was worth the effort.
"Bringing in Gustavo, he did give us a little bit more punch up front, but we didn't do what we wanted to do, put goals in the net. Of course we brought in Wilson to give us a little more spark in the midfield and it just happens, I guess."
Silva opened up the second half, breaking free down the right side, but his shot, which beat Richardson, didn't have the angle and went wide left. In the 52nd minute Velez targeted the London goalie, but missed on the short side. Both players were stopped at point-blank range in the 17th minute. Silva then sailed a marvelous opportunity over the London net in the 36th.
Michigan earned its way into Sunday's final, downing Real Colorado 1-0 in Saturday's first semifinal.
Pitch marks: London's Denver Spearman left the game with an injured ankle in the 36th minute.