Usually the Thunder Bay Chill’s annual “meet the team” introductory press conference is packed with optimism for the soccer season ahead.
Not so much on Friday. After starting their USL Two season last week with a pair of road losses, players and coaches are just itching to get back on the pitch. While it doesn’t count in the standings, Thunder Bay will get a chance to back to good habits when it hosts the Winnipeg Lions in exhibition games tonight and Sunday.
The Chill will then resume league play at home, June 7-8 against WSA Winnipeg.
“It’s a different schedule than we usually have,” Chill coach Giovanni Petraglia said. “It didn’t start well, but we love the opportunity to play these games this weekend because it’s going to give us the measure of where we’re at right now. We’re changing our approach, change a little bit tactically so we need these kinds of games to try to see if we can actually make these changes in order to be ready for next week’s league games.”
With just 14 games in the regular season, the Chill (0-2-0) are already in chase mode against fellow Heartland Division rivals Des Moines (3-0-0), Kaw Valley (3-0-1) and even St. Louis (1-1-1) for two available playoff spots.
“I don’t think anything has changed other than the attitude right now,” said midfielder Pedro Adan. “We realize what we’ve got to do because other teams have gotten together a lot sooner than us. . . . We’re really just more mentally focused than before.”
Friday’s scene wasn’t all anxiety and what ifs. The program is celebrating its 20th year in business and will be recognizing their successful past throughout the season.
Petraglia also announced his captains for the 2019 campaign, highlighted by five-year veteran defender Mattia Rolli getting the nod as first captain with Sullivan Silva and Adan as alternates.
“It was a surprise to be full captain and be considered first captain. It’s a huge honour, honestly,” said Rolli, a 27-year-old native of Rome, Italy who has settled in Thunder Bay.
Rolli is confident the Chill’s bounce-back is around the corner.
“For sure, we will come back. It’s our strength as the Thunder Bay Chill, as a club,” he said. “It’s not that easy when you’re creating a new team and getting them all together. We’re working hard. Step by step, we’re going to get there.”
Petraglia said Rolli will fit in perfectly as the face of what the program is trying to achieve.
“He’s worked with the Chill youth. He knows everything around the club,” Petraglia said. “He’s part of the family — he’s not just a player. We felt he along with Pedro and Sullivan they’re the ones who can lead the group better than anyone else.”
The Chill will need that stability as they dove into the season with a revamped starting lineup.
“When these losses happened, we got all the guys together,” said Adan, who turned 30 earlier this week. “We got the young guys in and said, ‘We want to win all these games, but sometimes you can’t. Let’s group up again and here we go.’”
NOTES: Tonight’s game will be played at 7:30 p.m. at the St. Patrick High School field. The rematch on Sunday goes at 1 p.m. at Fort William Stadium. . . . The Chill are 20-2-3 all-time against the Winnipeg Lions men’s rep club. . . . Petraglia said Silva, Francesco Brunetti, Marco Kummerle and goalkeeper William Sykes will not be available to play this weekend due to various injuries. “We have a few injuries and we want them to be ready for next week, but it won’t change our structure, our system,” Petraglia said.