Chill advance to PDL Final Four
By Matt Vis
The Thunder Bay Chill cleared a second major hurdle in their quest for a league title while enjoying the added bonus of doing it at the expense of the squad that upset them a year ago.
Sergio Campano Franco and Paul Dillon each notched first-half goals as Thunder Bay captured its fourth Central Conference championship in franchise history with a 3-0 victory in the final over Forest City London at a raucous Fort William Stadium on Sunday.
With the win, the Chill has punched their ticket into the Premier Development League’s final four in Austin, Tex., and avenged last year’s conference semi-final loss against London — the defending league champions — that has lingered throughout the season.
“For 10 months I’ve been having that sour taste in my mouth thinking about how London knocked us out last year and they only really had one chance,” said Dillon. “This year getting over them and getting over the (Michigan Bucks in the semifinal on Saturday) was huge.”
The Chill concludes the conference tournament without conceding a goal, as keeper Stephen Paterson of Thunder Bay collected his second consecutive clean sheet.
The backline anchors of Axel Sjoberg, Zetroy Robertson, and Dillon were vital to both of the weekend victories as the squad made a commitment to keeping the ball out of their own goal in order to engineer a playoff push.
“From the start of the season (head coach Tony Colistro) told us that for us to win this championship we would have to defend,” said Robertson. “The last two games, they weren’t pretty and they weren’t how we played it but we defend a lot and we knew if we gave them one goal it would bring them back in the game.
“It’s just the feeling from losing last year. You don’t want to go back to that point,” he added. “It was heartbreaking when we realized we weren’t in the final four so we decided this year we were going to fight for it. If we were going to lose, we were going to lose trying real hard.”
One of the key defensive tactics the Chill utilized was disrupting the London aerial attack, as analysis of the visiting club showed that they specialized in attacking with long passes.
Robertson credited a team effort between both the defender group, as well as midfielders Nolan Intermoia and Pedro Adan for shutting down London.
“(Colistro) assessed London and we knew all they had was the long ball so we worked on covering,” he said. “They were hitting it long on my side and my job was to put that player under pressure, not win the ball, but put the player under pressure so he would drop it in the middle where Nolan and Pedro were there to win it.”
For the second straight day the Chill got off to a slow start in front of their hometown faithful, as the visitors controlled possession and tempo throughout the first 20 minutes of the match.
From there, Thunder Bay flicked a switch as they dictated the rest of the match.
The Chill opened the scoring in the 33rd minute as Campano Franco chased down a long ball and lifted a lob from over 30 yards out over the head of charging London keeper Reece Richardson and into the goal.
After clinging to a narrow lead and escaping from the semifinal with a 1-0 score, the Chill were not about to nurse the lead and tempt fate again.
Insurance came in the waning minutes prior to the half when Dillon struck one of his patented left-footed blasts low and through Richardson.
The goal carried Thunder Bay into the locker room riding a massive wave of momentum, and also allowed the Chill with the luxury of pushing for the dagger instead of trying to protect a perilous edge.
“Going 2-0 into halftime is a dream,” Dillon said. “Coming out for the second half you just wanted to find that third goal and put the icing on the cake and we fought, we fought, and we fought for it and eventually it came and we could breathe a little bit.”
The icing came in the 84th minute, courtesy of team leading scorer Sunny Omeregie. After Intermoia and Campano Franco missed on earlier opportunities, the Nigerian striker ran down a ball from Abraham Villon, outworked the London defence and easily finished the rush alone against the keeper.
“We said that we weren’t going to hold back,” Colistro said. “I said that if we went up early we weren’t going to change the lineup. We’re going to go after them and we’re going to continue to go after them all the time.”
While winning the conference title in front of the home crowd was a cause for celebration, the team knows that now they are only at the halfway point in the goal of winning the franchise’s second PDL title.
“Now that we’re Central Conference champions this is where we wanted to be,” Colistro said.
“Again, we have to go back to work (this) week and hopefully take the national title again.”
The Chill will be joined in the final by the Austin Aztex of the Southern Conference, the Ocean City (N.J.) Nor’Easters from the Eastern Conference, and the Victoria Highlanders from the west.