THUNDER BAY – It's been nearly three years since the Thunder Bay Chill were last on the pitch.
COVID-19 wiped out their past two seasons, thanks to border restrictions that made it all but impossible for the USL 2 club to field a team and get to its games.
On Saturday night, however, the Chill were back, opening up their 2022 training camp with a lot of fresh new faces and a renewed attitude to deliver a championship, a feat last accomplished in 2008, an eternity in soccer.
Among the few familiar faces racing up and down the artificial surface at St. Patrick High School was 33-year-old Sullivan Silva, a former Premier Development League most valuable player who still thinks he's got what it takes to compete in what promises to be a highly competitive Deep North Division, the Chill's new USL 2 home.
“It feels good,” said Silva, looking none the worse for wear after a two-hour practice.
“It's been two long years that we haven't stepped on the field. It's good to be back again. It's a new environment, not only for the players that were here, but for the other players as well.”
Silva, a Brazilian national who has called Thunder Bay home for the past decade, said bringing back the Chill's winning ways is goal No. 1 this summer.
“That's the mentality from everyone. The last few years we haven't been able to get to the playoffs. This is our first goal and then we start thinking from there. We just have to bring the Thunder Bay Chill where the Thunder Bay Chill deserves to be,” Silva said.
Veteran coach Gio Petraglia, back for a sixth season guiding the Chill – not counting the lost seasons of 2020 and 2021 – said the goal is to still be playing on Aug. 6, the scheduled date of the USL 2 championship game.
The team last played for a title in 2017, losing 2-1 to the Charlotte Eagles.
“That's the culture here with the Chill and our goal is that one, nothing less. We want to go play that game. We know that the team is going to be brand new. We know that we need some time to get organized, but we feel that we have a team that can go all the way to the final,” Petraglia said.
“This is a team that probably the difference between the recent years is that it's a team that's stronger physically, which is something that I wanted to do in my recruiting, to strengthen the size of everybody to be able to battle a little bit in this league because this is a very physical league.”
Silva and Mattia Rolli are the only two non-Thunder Bay faces coming back to the Chill in 2022, though locals Alex Pike and Devan Jorgenson are expected to break camp with the team, both members of the most recent 2019 squad.
Among the newcomers is Italian mid-fielder Edoardo Righetti, who hails from Rome and like Silva and Petraglia, said the team has one goal in mind.
“The expectations are to win the conference. We have a lot of teams that are good enough to compete with us. Des Moines is a national champion. But we can have a good season, for sure,” Righetti said, admitting his legs were feeling the aftermath of the opening practice and scrimmage, adding that's what training camp is all about – rounding into game shape.
“Obviously the feet aren't good enough at the moment, but we can improve practice after practice and just try to win in the future.”
The Chill open on May 20 and May 21 with friendlies against the Winnipeg Lions at Chapples Park The championship quest begins the following weekend with the regular season opener on the road against FC Manitoba and their home opener is June 3 against the Des Moines Menace.