THUNDER BAY -- The sigh from Tony Colistro after Saturday's match was almost one more of relief than satisfaction.
That will happen when the reigning regular season champions take until their fourth weekend of the regular season to pick up all of their available points in a home stand.
For the first time this campaign Thunder Bay picked up a six point weekend, completing a series sweep of WSA Winnipeg with a second consecutive 3-0 victory at Chapples Park.
“We definitely needed it,” the Chill head coach said moments after the final whistle. “The players put in a good performance and they deserved the win. We had no goals allowed and that’s what we were looking for.”
The victory was a second strong showing from a side that captured both the Heartland Division and Central Conference crowns last year but had hit a couple of bumps this time around trying to incorporate more than a dozen new faces into the fold.
The side finally accomplished a mission they have been working on since the opening series last month.
“It’s something that Tony has preached that we need to get that home sweep, both games. It’s not just the first one, we have to get the second one as well,” keeper Daniel Alvarado said. “We came as a unit and molded together and it’s what we’ve been looking for.”
This weekend Colistro utilized his bench to maximum potential, making his maximum six substitutions on Saturday and five on Friday.
He believes that having his entire active roster see game action is a crucial element in building that cohesive side.
“We’re getting there. The team chemistry is important and this weekend was good,” Colistro said.
“We had players coming off the bench that played an important role and that’s what you need to build a team. You need to be able to trust all the players and what they can do and knowing that if a player comes in for five or 20 minutes they’re going to give you the resurgence you need on the field.”
The win moves Thunder Bay (5-3-0) into a share of the top spot in the Heartland Division table with the Des Moines Menace, though the side from Iowa has two games in hand. The Chill move three points clear of the now third place St. Louis Lions, who have one game in hand on Thunder Bay.
For the second straight contest Thunder Bay opened the scoring in the first half, with a set piece once again resulting in a goal.
The Chill had been steadily applying pressure and creating opportunities from the corners before the levees finally broke when Paul Dillon directed a corner into the area, which was headed home by captain Nolan Intermoia.
Winnipeg had their best opportunity come on a free kick from just outside the box but it was hit directly into the midsection of Alvarado and he held on to control the ball.
Later on the home side got a boost from a player who had been unavailable for much of the early half of their season.
Returning to the lineup was heralded midfielder Vitor Huvos, who has been sidelined since early in the campaign due to a lingering quadriceps injury.
Prior to kickoff he had reservations about whether he would be able to perform.
“Before the match I wasn’t sure I would play because I’m not 100 per cent yet,” Huvos said. “I got the chance to start the match and I was happy and excited to see if I could make it.”
That doubt was erased by the time he was substituted off in the second half. After shaking off the rust in the first half he showed flashes of what a dynamic force he can be on the pitch.
First he set up a pristine opportunity for forward Ivan Argos Ocerin with a spot on drop pass but the attempt just rolled wide of the far post.
His efforts resulted in Thunder Bay’s insurance in the 56th minute when he and Dominic Roberts engaged in a nifty passing play inside the box, culminating with Roberts burying the second attempt after the initial try from Huvos.
The icing on the cake came in the 56th minute after Winnipeg was called for a hand ball inside the box, setting up a Chill penalty kick.
Colistro made an unexpected move, calling for his returning star midfielder step up to the spot in the usual place of Intermoia. Huvos took advantage and made no mistake.
“Normally we let Nolan take it but we thought it was important to let Vitor hit it and get his confidence back because he’s definitely going to be a key player for us,” Colistro said.
Huvos had an opportunity to add a second tally on the score sheet a few minutes later but this time he was denied by Winnipeg keeper Josh Partaker.
Alvarado picked up his second straight clean sheet in between the woodwork, getting the start in place of injured 1B option Mitchell Thorn. Rarely tested, he was solid when called upon.
The side’s last line is jelling well with his defenders, particularly communicating with the players in front of him.
“He’s getting more comfortable with the players and he gives us that presence in the back. He’s a big goalkeeper. He gets out on those crosses and when he does he comes out big,” Colistro said.
Pitch marks: The Chill improve to 4-2 at home this season and 2-2 at Chapples Park…The goal was the second for Intermoia in as many matches… The save by Partaker on the Chill’s second penalty kick was his third such save of the season...Thorn said he is suffering from lower back pain. Colistro said he will be checked out by team medical staff, though he doubts it is a serious ailment...The Chill now embark on a five-game road trip, starting with a pair next weekend at Des Moines...The Chill sport a 1-1 road record.
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