THUNDER BAY -- It seems like a long time ago that a playoff appearance was the definition of a successful season for the Thunder Bay Chill.
That bar has since been raised significantly.
The reigning Premier Development League regular season champs opened training camp at Fort William Stadium this past weekend with one goal in mind -- capturing the league crown.
For veteran defenders Zetroy Robertson and Nolan Intermoia, both of whom were on squads that finished one win short of the title last year as well as in 2010, it's time to taste victory.
“For myself and Nolan we have a lot of unfinished business,” Robertson said before a training session on Sunday. “I really want to win a championship. I’ve come up short twice now and we’re hoping this year will be it. That’s our main goal.”
After putting together a league-best mark of 12-1-1 in the regular season, Thunder Bay marched all the way to the league final before dropping a 3-1 decision to the host Austin Aztex.
When it came time to compile this year’s roster, head coach Tony Colistro looked at where he thought his team fell short and adapted accordingly.
He didn’t have a shortage of options, as more than 100 players from around the globe contacted the team during the offseason looking for a spot.
“We just felt we were a little bit small last year and a little young. This year we brought in experienced players, players who have definitely been there who are older and have top notch talent,” Colistro said.
The centrepiece of this latest batch of new recruits is Brazilian midfielder Vitor Huvos, who arrives with a wealth of international experience.
Huvos, 25, had previously spent time with the reserve squad of perennial Spanish powerhouse Atletico Madrid. Being a member of the Atletico Madrid B group provided him with the opportunity to spend countless hours training with some of the best players in Europe.
“I have some good skills, quality passes and quality on the ball,” Huvos said. “I can also help with the touch call game and bring everything I have learned in my soccer life to Thunder Bay.”
Despite his pedigree, Huvos is not spending this campaign chasing personal accolades. Rather, he shares the same objective for the season as Robertson.
He says the Chill’s past history of success was a primary factor in his decision to spend the summer in North America.
“I just want to help the team with all I can do, maybe some goals, maybe some assists. I’m not worried about individual (accomplishments),” Huvos said.
“I hope with the group we can get in the finals and win. That’s my goal.”
Colistro has seen plenty of talented international players, such as former standouts Spanish midfielder Sergio “Sota” Campano Franco and Nigerian striker Sunny Omoregie, grace the pitch over the past few seasons.
Those predecessors have encouraged other players to follow their lead and take their careers to Thunder Bay. Colistro admits he didn’t believe a decade ago he could land the calibre of players he is currently leading.
“I don’t know seven or eight years ago I was really thinking about that. I was just hoping to get some wins and get into the playoffs,” Colistro said. “Each year you set the bar higher and higher and I think we kept doing that. With the level of players coming in this year we’ve definitely done that.”
Despite the additions, it is one subtraction that is the most noticeable at training camp. Thunder Bay native Stephen Paterson, the longest tenured member of the Chill, is not returning after 10 years of service as the team’s goalkeeper.
Filling the void between the posts will be the duo of Daniel Alvarado and Mitchell Thorn. Alvarado returns from last season, when he recorded wins in all six regular season games he played.
The back end in front of the keeper will look familiar for the most part, with Robertson returning along with Intermoia and Paul Dillon. The team will be without Axel Sjoberg for at least July, as he is training overseas in Sweden.
The Chill will see their first competitive action on May 24-25 when they host the Winnipeg Lions for a two-game set before hitting the road the next weekend to open the PDL campaign with a pair of matches against Heartland Division rivals WSA Winnipeg.
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