THUNDER BAY – Mattia Rolli says he’s got some unfinished business left with the Thunder Bay Chill.
The United Soccer League 2 team’s returning captain, it’s been nearly three years since Rolli and the Chill last took to the pitch in July 2019, a season that ended on a sour note when the team missed the playoffs for a second straight season.
That’s not acceptable for a club with four championship final appearances, including winning it all in 2008.
Getting back to the playoffs is the No. 1 goal, Rolli said on Friday, after taking part in one final practice ahead of this weekend’s friendlies against the visiting Winnipeg Lions, games that also mark the Chill’s return to their refurbished, grass-covered Chapples Field, a first since 2014.
“We haven’t finished in the right way, plus COVID was in the way. I didn’t want to quit, I didn’t want to give up because of a pandemic,” said Rolli, one of several Rome-born players on this year’s Thunder Bay squad.
“We want to get back stronger.”
Coach Gio Petraglia, who took over the reins in 2015, said as the weather warms and the smell of the grass begins to permeate the air, he and his players start itching to get into game competition.
That’s a good sign, he said.
“Three years is a long wait,” Petgraglia said.
Just how the team will perform under league conditions – the Chill kick off regular-season play next weekend on the road against FC Manitoba – remains to be seen. That’s why the team has scheduled this weekend’s exhibition matches, Saturday’s game scheduled at 7 p.m. and Sunday’s with a 1 p.m. kick-off.
“This weekend will give us lots of answers. I believe this team will be a little bit different than in previous years the characteristics of the players and the age of the players. I think this is the youngest roster we’ve ever had,” Petraglia said.
“We’re trying to put together a football team that will be more aggressive than usual. We’ll test it out this weekend.”
One player the Chill will heavily count upon is import goal-keeper Eduardo D’avino, who was supposed to join the team in 2020, said the team is ready to test its talent level against the Lions, a chance to make adjustments on the fly ahead of the regular season start.
“My expectations are high, like everybody else’s,” the D’avino said.
“We’re ready and we can’t wait to start (Saturday) at our first exhibition game at home.”
Knowing he’ll be the last line of defence makes the challenge that much more exciting.
“For us, the ball weighs a little bit more bit more. We’ve got a lot of responsibilities, but we train every day for it,” he said.
The Chill will play this season in the newly formed Deep North Dvision, challenging perennial favourites, the Des Moines Menace, for one of the two available playoff positions, along with Peoria City, expansion Minneapolis City SC, St. Croix SC and FC Manitoba.
The Menace (2-0-0) will be Thunder Bay’s home-opener opponent on June 3.