THUNDER BAY - The Thunder Bay Chill are right on the doorstep of a playoff spot after winning their third consecutive game Saturday night at Fort William Stadium.
After a goal from substitute Nolan Sherwood in the 69th minute, the Thunder Bay Chill (6-3-1) are just two points back of the final playoff spot in the USL 2’s Heartland Division, after beating Kaw Valley FC 1-0.
Through seven games, the gap between Thunder Bay and second place Kaw Valley (6-3-4) was 11 points. After a win on Saturday, it’s just two.
The game, according to coach Gio Petraglia, was a result of the team’s stylistic change, which has helped them climb back into the playoff picture.
“I thought this team could play a different way,” Petraglia said regarding the team’s slow start. “Be more of an attacking team; press high. I realized this wasn’t the case, so we went back to our strengths.”
On Saturday, the Chill’s strength was in its defense, exactly according to gameplan.
Through the first 60 minutes, Kaw Valley couldn’t convert or manufacture any chances, and both teams controlled possession around midfield.
The Chill’s first chance came at the 66th minute for Luis Buranello Neves who broke through the stingy Kaw Valley defence and had a window near the short left side of the goal, but Kaw goalie Fillipo Errico got just enough of it with his right hand before the ball hit the post.
“Coach just told us that the goal would come… We just had to stay patient and stay composed in the final 30 (minutes),” Sherwood said.
The winning goal, was also according to gameplan.
“I took the risk by subbing out Liam Ezzard, a centre back, and subbed in the striker (Sherwood) because we needed a win.”
The move paid off, thanks to a heads-up play by Sullivan Silva.
Silva was awarded a free ball following a foul, and snuck it between two Kaw Valley defenders to Neves, who one-touched it to Sherwood.
With just Kaw Valley’s goalie to beat, Sherwood slid one past the keeper off of his right foot.
“I honestly can’t really remember it. It happened too fast. But that opportunity was the one that was going to put us through.”
Kaw Valley’s best chance to tie the match came at the 74th minute during a free kick from Manuel Busquets Rude, but goaltender Matthew Mozynski punched it away.
Minor injuries and chippy play in the remaining 15 minutes gave Kaw Valley FC a chance with five minutes left.
A questionable foul on Luka Glusevic gave Kaw Valley a free kick roughly 30 yards from the goal, but after a series of deflections, the Chill cleared the ball.
It was Kaw Valley’s last chance of the match.
“We knew we were in a bad situation, and in the game against Des Moines, we refused to lose in the second half,” Petraglia said referring to a home draw against Des Moines which he considers the turning point in the season.
“That happened again tonight… This club never surprises me, that’s our DNA: to fight. I’m positive we’re going to go to the playoffs.”
The Chill have three road games remaining on their regular season schedule, two of which are against the first-place Des Moines Menace.